Boys’ Booters Eliminated, But Not Before Overachieving Under New System
NAUGATUCK — Newtown High School’s boys’ soccer team came into the campaign with a much different look, from the players on the field — a whopping 14 team members graduated last year — to the coaching staff. Playing under a completely different system, as implemented by Head Coach Charley Amblo and company, the Nighthawks were rebuilding from the bottom, starting from scratch in many ways.
What started as a campaign with pretty much no win-loss expectations, but an objective to grasp a European-like possession style of play and building upon this structure with new formats as the season unfolded, turned into a successful one with an 8-5-3 regular-season mark and run to the South-West Conference tournament semifinals. It all came to what turned out to be a disappointing end in the Class LL State Tournament’s first round.
The No. 22 seed in the bracket, Newtown lost 1-0 to No. 11 and host Naugatuck on a damp, rainy-at-times November 6 afternoon.
Some miscues in the back led to the lone goal in the first half. Amblo attributed some jitters among his mostly-new-to-playoffs group for the struggles.
“It’s tournament time. You lose, you go home. It’s not the same as you lose, you play Thursday,” Amblo said.
After settling into the state game and surrendering the goal, Newtown played much better.
“We tightened up, and we played a little bit more to the game plan,” Amblo said.
Goalkeeper Cam Trivers made a diving stop on one of Naugatuck’s few second-half chances. The rebound popped out, and defender Duncan O’Leary blocked the follow-up chance, keeping it a one-goal differential in the second half.
Newtown moved the ball well and picked its moments to make runs and play the ball forward. In the second half, sophomore Jack Petersen had a chance following a dash down the left sideline and later got his head on a free kick send from senior captain Owen Baillargeon that was knocked out for a corner kick. Baillargeon’s corner insert was nearly redirected into the goal, but the chance, with about ten minutes to play, went by the board.
Another push, this time up the right side, led to a junior-to-junior connection as Tristan Andrew’s cross was picked up by Jalen Minter, who shot just over the top bar with seven-plus minutes remaining.
Newtown struggled to fabricate scoring plays following a late season-ending injury to one of its go-to offensive contributors, Rilind Limani.
Still, despite the changes at the start of the slate and injury to their top scorer, the season turned out to be better, in some ways, than Amblo expected.
Amblo, after seeing his team improve as the weeks went by, did believe the Hawks could make a run in the state playoffs, but he said they reached his goal to win a postseason game. Newtown did that in the SWC tournament, avenging a regular-season loss to Notre Dame-Fairfield. Newtown also handed eventual SWC champ Weston its only loss of the season.
One of Amblo’s first-season objectives was to get his players to manage the game, rather than look to the coaches to run plays. He liked how the Hawks embraced the approach and became more comfortable with it as the season went on.
A former coach and player at a variety of levels, including overseas, Amblo has seen his share of soccer. He evaluated his group’s progression, referring to game charts detailing types of passes and turnovers against, for example. Throughout the season, Amblo used a percentage for season progression based on the team’s progress.
“I think this group probably got to about 85 percent of their season’s potential,” said Amblo, adding that he kept under wraps that his goal was for them to reach 75 percent.
In other words, it could be said that these Nighthawks overachieved.
One might ask why not aim for 100 percent, but Amblo implemented a completely different style of play and said he asked a lot of his players to execute the basics, and later increasingly advanced additions to his systems in such a short time window. Amblo said during preseason and throughout the campaign that he has been developing the program with an eye not only on the present, but the future as well. With a half-dozen or more freshmen and sophomores in the lineup on a regular basis, Amblo is encouraged by this progression in his first season.
“I think the seniors got an education they can take with them. The juniors, sophomores, and freshmen have a foundation that they’ll be expected to build on,” Amblo said. “It’s been great.”
Seniors who will leave shoes to fill are Trivers, Henry Vaughan, Garrett Mandarano, Baillargeon, Limani, Thomas Briscoe, and Will Pelisson.
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