West Hartford’s Hall High School, the 2019 Class LL boys soccer champion, kicked off the 2020 season Saturday against crosstown rival Conard.
By Sam Newton. Photo by Ronni Newton
It’s never an easy matchup for either team when Conard and Hall face off. Coming off a class LL state championship in 2019, Hall (1-0) began its new season on a strong note, defeating crosstown rival Conard (1-1) by a score of 1-0 Saturday at Robert J. McKee Stadium.
The game’s lone goal came in the second half, when the Warriors were able to draw Conard’s skillful goalie, senior Baden Krisst, out of the goal, and a pass by junior Scott Gilden led to a score by sophomore Lucas Almeida.
The first 20 minutes of the first half were somewhat choppy, with both teams struggling to control the possession out of the gate. This can be expected early in the season, as teams are still analyzing strengths and weaknesses and getting accustomed to playing with one another.
The Conard-Hall rivalry always brings out the best in both teams, and Conard knew it would need to play mistake-free in order to come out on top against the defending champs.
Twenty minutes into the game, Conard senior co-captain Justin Rivas had a tremendous goal-scoring opportunity.
After a quick dribble move to get by the out-coming Hall goalie, sophomore Tyler Fairchild, Rivas delivered a shot from the left side of the goal that came inches away from giving Conard an early lead. But the ball hit off the side of the goal post and kept the game scoreless.
This could have served as an early difference-maker in the game, according to Conard head coach Adam Linker. “Being up 1-0 is a very big difference. It definitely would’ve allowed us to do a different defensive strategy the rest of the game.”
Hall’s response to an early goal-scoring opportunity from Conard was to try and hit through balls diagonally behind the Conard defense, hoping to find the feet of star player Evan Jones. At first, the Conard defense, led by senior co-captain Jude Sargent, held its own and effectively cleared any dangerous balls played through.
With about 15 minutes remaining in the first half, Hall had its first real scoring chance. The Warriors’ senior co-captain, Jones, weaved through the Conard defense and laid off a beautiful pass to his teammate, but Conard goalie Krisst made a terrific save to keep Hall off the scoreboard.
Hall continued its attacking style of play, trying to put in a goal in before halftime. With five minutes to go in the first half, Hall senior Joseph Fineboy took advantage of the Conard defense’s lackadaisical clearance and got a great shot on target, but Krisst had a great save.
The ensuing corner kick led to another prime goal-scoring opportunity for the Warriors, but the attempted head-in rolled past the net and out of bounds, leaving Conard unscathed and heading into halftime tied 0-0.
Hall started the second half strong, dominating possession and keeping the same offensive pressure on the Chieftain defense that it had at the end of the first half. In just the first five minutes, Hall nearly put two goals away, with both just missing the side of the net.
Conard, attempting to defend its home turf, showed it was going to match Hall’s intensity with several strong counterattacks of its own, although the Warriors’ defense was playing well and prevented Conard from capitalizing on any opportunities.
About mid-way through the second half, Conard’s Rivas struck a beautiful free kick from 30 yards out, headed right towards the top half of the goal before the Warriors’ Fairchild made an amazing save to get his hand on it and tap the ball out of bounds.
A few minutes later, following a corner kick, Hall snatched the ball from the Chieftains in the middle of the field and just seconds later scored its first goal to take a 1-0 lead. The Warrior’s counterattack was quick and explosive, as Hall’s Gilden drew Conard goalie Krisst out of net, dribbled by him, and laid off a pass to teammate Almeida for the score.
Following the goal, Conard knew its offense needed to kick into another gear if it was going to prevent a home loss to arch-rival Hall. The Warriors, however, remained in control of the game, dominating possession as they held onto the 1-0 lead.
With about 10 minutes remaining, Hall’s Jones was on a breakaway scoring opportunity with the Conard defense out of position, before the Chieftains’ senior defender Sargent made a blatant and illegal tackle from behind, resulting in a red card on the play and an injured wrist for the Hall star forward.
This was a costly play for both teams, as Conard was forced to play a man down for the remainder of the game while already down by one on the scoreboard. Sargent will need to sit out the next game as well. On the other side, Jones is one of the Warriors’ best players and they will surely miss his attacking presence and leadership on the field if he has to miss any games.
Following the red card, Hall continued to control the flow of the game.
Trying to put another goal away, hoping for the greater insurance of a two-goal lead, Hall would get two more shots on target but Conard’s Krisst did all he could to keep his team in the game, deflecting both shots out of bounds and giving the Chieftains a chance to tie the game.
With just 60 seconds remaining, Conard was set up for a free kick just outside the 18-yard box. This seemed to be the Chieftains’ last real scoring opportunity Unfortunately, the Conard players were too eager as the sideline referee called most of the team offside, with the ball rolling out of bounds as the game clock expired and the Warriors picked up their first win on the new season.
“I thought it was a pretty even game,” Hall head coach Zeke Seguro said. “Both sides had chances to score and we just finished ours. We were just so excited to be able to play. … I wish them [Conard] all the best and pray we have a full season.”
Conard’s Linker echoed a similar sentiment. “Everything is a success right now. We’re playing. … I was very proud of how they [Conard] played. I thought they played an excellent game.”
The Chieftains and Warriors usually only face off twice a season, however, this season is anything but normal amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The cross-town rivals scrimmaged each other a week before this game, with Hall handily winning 6-1.
Linker said this game was a step in the right direction for the Chieftains, even though losing to a rival is always difficult to accept no matter the circumstances.
Conard’s next game is against another cross-town rival, at Northwest Catholic on Tuesday at 3:45 p.m. Hall will host Simsbury at 6 p.m. on Tuesday night.
The entire game can be seen in on YouTube, courtesy of West Hartford Community Interactive.
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