WEST HAVEN – Heading into the season opener against cross-town rival Notre Dame, the West Haven boys soccer team had a different mindset. While last season proved successful with a high-tempo offense, the 2016 season would be treated differently with a defense first mentality.
It also does not hurt to have one of the best players in the state in Salah Oumorou.
That defense, led by the play of Sergio Figueroa and Mo Togbah, and the offense of Oumorou were enough in a 1-0 victory over Notre Dame in a Southern Connecticut Conference Quinnipiac Division contest at Ken Strong Stadium Saturday evening.
“We are built around defense,” West Haven coach Peter Hamasian said after his team improved to 1-0. “We have to be defensive-minded. We know the style we have to play. We cannot break down.”
The West Haven defense limited the Green Knights’ scoring chances, pushing a bulk of the action to the outside. Notre Dame had a few quality chances in the second half, but West Haven goalkeeper Alex Saier made a pair of saves to preserve the win.
“We are young and small, but we played hard,” Notre Dame coach Rudy Raffone said after his team fell to 0-1. “We played like a Notre Dame team. We played like we used to play. We battled and we were gritty.”
The lone goal of the contest came late in the first half as Oumorou drew a foul and was awarded a direct kick with 1 minute, 52 seconds remaining in the half. Oumorou took advantage, drilling a shot to the top right corner off the diving fingertips of Notre Dame goalkeeper Tyler Brown-Ortiz.
“I saw which way he was looking and I just went to the opposite side,” Oumorou said. “I am proud of the team. I am proud of everyone. They (Notre Dame) know I am a dangerous player and all eyes are on me. We had other guys step up tonight.”
With the Westies up by one goal, Oumorou looked as if he would extend the lead when his bicycle kick sailed towards the goals, but was denied by Brown-Ortiz.
“He is a good goalkeeper,” Raffone said of Brown-Ortiz. “He made some good saves for us tonight.”
The Green Knights had two opportunities to get the equalizer in the second half. Sean Mufarinya directed a corner kick wide 12 minutes in, and sophomore Noah Lee shot wide from 18 yards out off a corner with 10:35 remaining.
“I thought our defense, especially Sergio Figueroa and Mo Togbah, did a great job,” Hamasian said. “We did well all the way around.”
West Haven had a golden scoring opportunity 2:24 into the contest when a chip from Ian Cooke to Oumorou was tipped over the goal. Brown-Ortiz denied Oumorou with a sliding save six minutes in, and Brandon Mino was stopped in the middle from 25 yards out with 9:43 left in the opening half.
Notre Dame had one solid scoring chance in the opening half, but Louis Flood’s laser from 30 yards out was punched away by Saier with 24:52 left in the half.
“In the past, we would always look at the big picture,” Hamasian said. “This year, we are taking it one game at a time. It is a process to get to where we want to be.”
Saier picked up the victory with three saves in the shutout. Brown-Ortiz was equally good, making six saves in the loss.
West Haven 1, Notre Dame-West Haven 0
(at West Haven)
Notre Dame-West Haven 0 0 — 0
West Haven 1 0 — 1
First half—WH: Salah Oumorou 35:00;
Shots—NDWH: 6; WH: 9;
Saves—NDWH 6; West Haven 3.