Hall hosted Glastonbury on Tuesday afternoon in West Hartford.
By Paul Palmer
Shawn Middleton scored the match’s only goal with 1:05 remaining as the Hall Titans opened their boys soccer season with a hard-fought win over Glastonbury.
On a steamy afternoon in West Hartford, the two sides engaged in a physical back-and-forth that saw each have periods of dominance in what ultimately was a well-played match that looked more like something you would see later in the season and not as the opener. “When you come out and play a great team like Glastonbury it lets you know where you stand,” said longtime Hall head coach Zeke Seguro.
Last season the two teams met twice, with Hall taking a 6-0 win and settling for a 1-1 tie.
Seguro has some questions that need to be answered this year after the graduation of players like Gatorade National Player of the Year Lucas Almeida, and All-Stater Sam Sandler among others.
Tuesday it was a smaller sized Titans squad that was often on the wrong end of some physical play that saw the Guardians pick up two yellow cards for fouls. But Hall didn’t give ground, and the backline and midfield stood strong in snuffing out Glastonbury’s chances to score and helping transition from defense to offense.
Glastonbury had the better of the opening minutes of play but could not get any solid shots on Hall goalie Quinn Freeman. Backs Tommy Nash and Patrick Liddell, along with midfielder Fareed Abu Raiba, helped anchor the defense with skilled challenges and a calming presence while under attack.
It took Hall until about the midway point of the opening half to get their best scoring chance. Sophomore Diego Lemes De Souza launched a dangerous cross into the box but a Hall header and follow-up shot both missed the mark. Abu Raiba had a nice run down the left side before sending a cross into the box that Glastonbury goalie Patrick Butler was able to handle with just under 12:30 to go.
One of the visitors’ best chances came off a long throw in by Collin Martin. His ability to launch the long ball on a throw-in was a weapon all day and in this case lea to scramble in the Hall box before the Titans’ Liddell managed to clear the ball. Moments later it was Luis Bravo making the big play for Hall as the forward backtracked to take the ball away from Glastonbury’s Jack Shaheen, who had beaten two defenders chasing the ball into the attacking zone. Bravo nearly scored the game’s first goal at 3:54 of the first when his 30-yard bending shot clanked off the crossbar.
The visiting Guardians controlled the flow of play for the rest of the opening 40 minutes and came out of the break with the same fire. They popped three shots on Freeman in the Hall net within the first 2:30 of the second stanza.
Hall managed to regain the momentum about 10 minutes in and had another good scoring chance when Bravo dropped in a 20-yard cross that found the head of teammate John Hunt, but Butler was there for the save. After long stretches of back-and-forth attacking, Glastonbury’s Andrew Stranko fired a rocket straight onto the goal, but Freeman was there to push it over the crossbar.
With time running down it looked like the two sides might have to settle for another tie, but Middleton changed that. A Glastonbury defender attempted to play a bouncing ball back to Butler, but the goalie was heading off his line to play the ball himself.
It bounded past Butler, and Middleton outraced a defender and drove a shot just under the crossbar to set off a Hall celebration.
“I always try to anticipate that there could be a mistake and today I was there to capitalize,” said the senior goal scorer. It felt great to be able to score and get the win for us.”
Middleton, like many of his teammates, will be counted on this year to pickup some of the scoring that was lost with the graduation of seniors. ‘We have a good group of kids who understand this is the opportunity to create their story,” Seguro said of this year’s squad.
Last season Hall did not lose a game until an overtime penalty kick loss to Greenwich in the final game of the year at the Class LL championship. How good this year’s team will be is something that will play out of the course of a typically tough Seguro schedule.
“We’re not gonna run away like last year, but we have good players that are capable of scoring by committee,” the coach said. Losing last year’s seniors like Sandler, Almeida, and others has created the opportunity to take over the leadership role, and Seguro said he already sees that happening early in the season.
“We have a great group of seniors who are excited to write their story. It is not a leadership of one,” Seguro said.
Next up for the Titans is a road game at Simsbury in a rematch of a playoff game won by Hall last season, before they host the always-tough Farmington on Monday.
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