WESTPORT – It has long been believed that the Staples boys soccer team has one of the best home-field advantages in the FCIAC. Since most schools have gone to artificial turf, the Wreckers continue playing on grass, so that advantage may have grown even greater.
Throw in the late fall setting sun that can be blinding at times for teams that are not used to the elements and, well, there is little wonder why the Wreckers are tough to beat at home.
Norwalk was reminded of that again today.
Five minutes into the game, while the visiting Bears were adjusting to Loeffler Field, Staples striker Timmy Liles caught Norwalk off guard and scored for a 1-0 win.
“Playing on our field really means something,” Staples coach Dan Woog said. “It can be intimidating to the other team.”
Besides the old-school, real-grass effect, the visitors have a hard time adjusting to the sun. The field is behind the school and the sun sets over the school. So if you look left you get blinded, unless, of course, you are used to it.
“This field does a lot for us,” said Liles, who chipped a shot over the head of Norwalk goalkeeper Cole Judkins just 4:11 into the contest for what proved to be the winner. “Not many fields have grass anymore and the sun is pretty tough. It takes a while for other team to adjust to that and we took advantage.”
Staples (4-2-2) had the better of play for most of the first half, especially in the opening minutes. And during one offensive attack on the Norwalk net, the ball popped out about 30 yards from the goal and the Bears started heading the other way. But the ball came back toward the goal, Liles controlled it and then popped it past Judkins, who played the first half and finished with two saves.
“We’ve been working on that all season,” Liles said. “We saw them going back and the ball came back to us and we jumped on it. It just happened to be me who got the ball and I just touched it over the goalkeeper’s head.”
“An early goal is always key,” added Woog. “Our MO is to try and go at them from the beginning.”
Norwalk (5-1-1), which began play today with the most points in the FCIAC, slowly adjusted to the environment and had three great chances later in the half. But Sebastian Echeverri, Michael Hidalgo and Maicol Ruiz all failed to convert.
“It was obvious to the coaches that this was a game of who wanted it more,” Norwalk coach Chris Laughton said. “I was very disappointed about how we got away from how we play. Hopefully this will be a good wakeup call.”
Norwalk had won five in a row before tying Central and had outscored its opponents, 14-2, in those six games. Laughton, however, does not think it was a matter of his players being too fixed on their glossy record.
“We know Staples is always good,” Laughton said. “I don’t ascribe to making excuses but playing here makes it difficult.”
Staples had a good chance midway through the second half against Norwalk’s second goalkeeper, Gianluca Trofa (2 saves). But Steven Frost shot high.
Then, in the final minute, Norwalk had its best opportunity against Staples goalie Ry Cohen (4 saves). First they were awarded a direct kick from 25 yards out with 25 seconds remaining. But Echeverri’s shot was deflected to the side of the goal and out of play.
That gave the Bears one last chance, a corner kick with 10 seconds left. But the Wreckers survived and moved within two points of the Bears in the standings.
“We challenged them today against a very good team and they stood tall,” Woog said. “The boys rose to the occasion today.”