Boys Soccer

Wilton Rides Bennett Goal, Solid Defense To Win Over Ridgefield

Wilton’s Nathan Bennett celebrates after scoring in the 56th minute. (Mark Conrad)

WILTON — The Wilton boys soccer team was admittedly rusty for today’s season-opening game against Ridgefield. In the end there was enough returning talent, headlined by Nathan Bennett, whose goal in the 56th minute provided the difference in a 1-0 home win.

“The chemistry isn’t there yet, but as long as you put the tactics and the ideals in, most of them are from last year,” Wilton coach Edwin Carvajal said. “They sort of lost their composure there at one point but a good critique and they fell back into place. They weren’t as calm as I wanted them to be but obviously that will come with playing with each other. We just haven’t had enough experience together to put it all together.”

The Warriors did not look like the team that advanced to the Class L final a year ago, but given the limited preseason due to Covid-19 and the quality of talent that graduated, that is a realistic goal for a month from now.

It took the Warriors a half to get jump-started before playing a much stronger final 40 minutes.

Ridgefield goalkeeper Jack Ragland makes a save. (Mark Conrad)

“We have a new set of boys,” Bennett said. “We have a lot of players coming back and we have a lot of JV kids coming in so it’s a new group of kids. We only had one friendly before this so I felt like that game and this game kind of established a team bond and we will keep getting stronger.”

There were few scoring chances in the first half before play opened up. Bennett used some great individual skill to create an opening for a perfectly placed shot from the right side into the far corner of the net for the game’s lone score. He was surrounded by several Ridgefield defenders before using his footwork to find an opening.

“The ball was coming down and I didn’t want to cross it in because there wasn’t enough space for me, so I just dragged it back and they opened up enough space for me to take a shot and it just went in,” Bennett said.

It was the kind of play Bennett displayed during last year’s memorable season.

Ridgefield’s Diego Pepe and Wilton’s Oliver Dahlen battle for possession. (Mark Conrad)

“You leave him in and he makes a little magic on his own,” Carvajal said. “He does have that talent. It is isolating him and getting him in those situations.”

The goal followed a big play by another veteran to keep the game scoreless. The Tigers’ Nicolas Pelaez got behind the defense but put his shot too close to goalkeeper Jack Lynch, who made the save.

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Pelaez was the playmaker in the Tigers’ best chance to equalize, in the 68th minute. He delivered a ball to Jonathan Dowding, but Lynch again got the stop.

Wilton’s Owen Lillis goes up with the Tigers’ Jonathon Dowding to win a ball in the air. (Mark Conrad)

Ridgefield coach Phil Bergen even moved his top player, Will Baker, up top from defense but the offense was unable to finish.

“We had some good chances that we didn’t execute, similar to last season’s problem,” Bergen said. “At practice they play unbelievable and during the game we are not playing up to our potential and that’s what is disappointing. I can find an excuse but I’d like to find a reason. They seem to be unprepared mentally at games. I think if we had scored a goal everything looks different.”

The Tigers were 4-8-4 a year ago but looked like a stronger team that can have greater success in its pod for this 10-game regular season.

The Tigers’ Tim Llewellyn heads away a Wilton corner kick. (Mark Conrad)

“I hope for their sake we can have a good season,” Bergen said. “The goal was to go 10-0 and now it’s to be 9-1.”

The Warriors executed one part of Carvajal’s strategy that bodes well for the long term.

“I told them after our scrimmage with Norwalk our defensive number, the number next to the visitor’s side, has to be zero,” Carvajal said. “We have to be able to keep a clean sheet and do the gruesome work on our end in order to get those wins and ties.”

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