MERIDEN - An own goal hurts no matter the circumstances, but for the Newington boys soccer team, an own goal late in the second half of Monday’s blowout win over Platt erased an effort to put together a third straight shutout victory.
Still, despite the mishap late in a game that had long since already been decided, Newington still hasn’t allowed a goal from an opponent since its humbling 5-2 loss to rival Wethersfield, still the only blemish on the team’s schedule. Since that lopsided defeat to the Eagles, Newington has made it a point to shore up its defensive efforts, and Monday’s victory was another recent example that the team took its only loss to heart.
“We’ve really bounced back,” senior captain Reed Campbell said after picking up a goal and two assists in the 7-1 win over the Panthers on Monday. “We let in five against Wethersfield, but we’ve been focused in training and working on our communication and being first to the ball.”
Newington showed that improved communication on Monday, keeping Platt out of the attacking zone until the 15:30 mark of the first half, when it took an impressive free kick from 40 yards out to get the Panthers in the shot column. Otherwise, it was a relatively quiet afternoon for goalkeeper Xander Ford, which is just how Newington likes it.
“That’s exciting,” Newington head coach Jeff Brunetti said of the team’s third straight win. “When you don’t concede, you always give yourself a chance to win. That’s important, and that’s always No. 1.”
Brunetti describes his group as young and still learning to play cohesively, especially after the lack of a full preseason slate hampered the ability to gain a sense of familiarity before meaningful games began. As the season continues, that cohesion is starting to show, and it took a quality team like Wethersfield to show exactly where Newington needed to improve on the defensive end.
“We always want to be organized in the back,” Brunetti said. “We’re young, so in the beginning of the season, there was a little miscommunication and we were a little unorganized. I thought a lot of the goals we gave up against [Wethersfield] were some weak goals and off of a lot of mistakes. But they’re an unbelievable team. It’s good to see the adjustments we’re making.”
On the field, the players have noticed a difference. Having allowed just the own goal since the Wethersfield loss while outscoring opponents 14-1 in that span, Newington is playing with a heightened confidence that is showing on the scoreboard. Newington is coming into games looking to put them out of reach right away, which it did on Monday by taking a commanding 6-0 lead by the halftime break. Just two shots were recorded by Platt during those first 40 minutes of play.
“We’re winning those one-on-one battles and communicating so everyone knows where to go,” Campbell said. “It’s become so much easier to defend against teams of all calibers.”
Of course, the defense has also been helped by a relentless scoring attack that has kept the ball out of the defensive zone, especially on Monday, when Ford had to make just four saves. In the eyes of Brunetti, the improvement on defense has just as much to do with the offense keeping the defense out of tough situations by keeping the action on the other end of the pitch.
“We have skillful midfielders that put on the pressure,” Brunetti said. “Sometimes your best defense is offense. We have a bunch of guys who can score.”
With games against Bulkeley, Maloney and Berlin coming up on the schedule, Newington has a chance to continue this defensive momentum. It silenced the Spartans last week and held the Redcoats to just one goal on opening day. The loss to Wethersfield may very well be nothing more than an outlier by the time the season is over, especially given the way the defense is performing of late.
“Our backs look more comfortable and they’re playing the ball and looking to combine passes,” Brunetti said. “They’ve been good one-on-one. I think they’re confidence has been improving since that loss.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org