Schools Sports

Red Wolves Punch Post-Season Ticket in Boys Soccer

Tony Catanzaro takes the late free kick for Conard. Conard vs. Southington boys soccer. Oct. 18, 2022. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

A tie with Southington at home in West Hartford locks the Conard boys soccer team into the post-season tournament.

Conard soccer wore special uniforms as part of the school’s breast cancer awareness program. Conard vs. Southington boys soccer. Oct. 18, 2022. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

By Paul Palmer

On a night when they fought back from a one-goal deficit and earned a spot in the boys’ state soccer tournament, it was an unhappy and subdued Conard sideline after the 1-all tie with Southington.

The Red Wolves dominated the game, outshooting their opponent 15-1, but an unforced mistake on defense and an inability to finish off plays on offense left the team feeling unfulfilled.

“It was a lack of finishing after doing a great job of building the play forward,” said first-year head coach Becca Lewis. “We were missing that final piece of putting the ball into the net.”

Kevin Rivas controls the ball in the box for Conard. Conard vs. Southington boys soccer. Oct. 18, 2022. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

From the opening whistle, the now 4-3-5 Red Wolves controlled the play, getting chance after chance to score. Southington goalie Brian Ludden was very active, and turned in some brilliant saves, but also saw several Conard shots taken straight at him. Kevin Rivas had a very productive game, time and time again getting the ball and making runs up the sidelines and into the center of the field to get off shots and set others up with pinpoint passing. Anthony Catanzaro, who is usually the target up front for Conard, also had several good chances on goal, but could not get the ball past Ludden.

When it looked like things might be scoreless at the half, a counterattack, and some defensive lapses, gave Southington the lead on what would be their only shot of the game. The Knights counter-attacked down the left side and when a Conard defender went to pass a bouncing ball back to goalie Ben Hammond, the junior keeper got a touch on the ball before Alex McDonough was able to poke the ball into the net. The Knights’ goal took the air out of the Conard attack, and the half ended with the host team trailing 1-0.

Tony Catanzaro’s tough angle shot is stopped by Southington goalie Brian Ludden. Conard vs. Southington boys soccer. Oct. 18, 2022. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Early play in the second half was a repeat of the first 40 minutes. Conard held possession, and 30 seconds in thought they had scored when Ludden deflected a shot high that bounced off the football crossbar over his net, fell into play and Conard knocked the loose ball in. But the football bar is out of play, so it was not a goal.

With the constant pressure by the Red Wolves, Southington at times had as many as five players across the back trying to keep pace with the constant runs by Conard. Damir Cirikovic played a deep midfield role, often working to try to shut down Catanzaro. Noah Panarella and Bradley Eng also turned in solid games defending for the Knights.

Conard’s pressure and patience final paid off just over 14:30 into the second half. Sami Dridi made a run with the ball along the backline and sent a low cross into the center of the box. The ball deflected up and hit the arm of a defender resulting in a penalty kick for Conard. Catanzaro stepped up and blasted a shot that Ludden managed to get part of a hand on, but the force of the shot carried it into the net to tie things at 1.

Kevin Rivas lets loose on a free kick. Conard vs. Southington boys soccer. Oct. 18, 2022. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

Catanzaro, Rivas, and Chris Roberts all had good chances to give the Red Wolves the lead, but they could not convert. Roberts had a chance when Ludden knocked a Catanzaro shot into the middle of the box, but his rebound shot went right to Ludden. Both Rivas and Catanzaro had their low, curling shots pushed to safety by Ludden to preserve the tie.

“We will move forward by recognizing that we are now in states,” said Lewis. “Now it is being hot at the right time of the season. We’ll take the lessons from here and work on our finishing.”

Sami Dridi works to get past Southington’s Noah Panarella. Conard vs. Southington boys soccer. Oct. 18, 2022. Photo credit: Paul Palmer

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