MIDDLETOWN >> It’s state tournament time which means one loss and you’re done. For the Middletown High boys soccer team, after an unbeaten streak of 10 games, that’s what happened.
17th-ranked Masuk of Monroe eliminated 16th-ranked Middletown from the Class L tournament in an opening round game 2-0 at Rosek-Skubel Stadium at Middletown High Tuesday afternoon. MHS had turned tis season around and gone 8-0-2 over its final 10 games to earn a first-round home game, but all that ended under the smothering defense of Masuk.
“We absolutely played great defense today,” said Masuk coach Antonio Viscuso. “We’ve been very good defensively all year. You have to be in the SWC [Southwest Conference] where a lot of games are 1-0, 2-0.”
The Panthers got the only goal they would need with 9:32 left in the first half when Tre Bonaparte scored in the left corner past MHS goalie Chris Rodo who had no chance. Masuk got its second goal late in this physical game, taking advantage of Middletown which was in attacking mode.
John Friedman scored from 10 yards out into the left corner with 2:28 remaining in the match.
“I thought we came out strong in the first half,” said Middletown coach Sal Emanuele. “We had our chances; we just couldn’t convert. We worked very hard, we fought throughout the game and we came close to getting the equalizer. It just didn’t happen.”
Neither team had any real advantage for the first 20 minutes as most of the game was played in the middle of the field. Rodo made an excellent save 17 minutes in when he came out of the goal to intercept a breakaway at the top of the box to deny Masuk an early lead.
Middletown’s best opportunity of the first half came when Lucas Saunders clean shot went just wide of the goal with 18:15 showing on the clock. The Blue Dragons had another good opportunity with 35 seconds left, but the shot went right to Masuk keeper Neil McCarter.
Rodo made a good save with 32 minutes left in the match and another Masuk shot went wide with 16:45 left. Middletown had other shots on goal – the Dragons outshot Masuk 10-8 – but the Masuk defense was physical and stifling.
“We are a physical team,” said Viscuso. “That’s the style we play. Middletown put a lot of pressure on late and the game got more physical as it went on.
“I thought we played pretty well. We came out with a game plan and we did what we wanted to do today, which was come out strong and get on the board first, which we did.”
Emanuele agreed that Masuk’s defense was decisive and that the game was physical. “I also thought we gave them that first goal,” he said. “Then their second goal came when we pressed forward at the end.”
Emanuele spent most of his post-game chat with his players emphasizing the positive.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished,” he said after he finished talking with his team. “The kids should leave here with their heads high. We went 10 games without a loss and this is just one night, just one loss.
“We took a big step this year, getting a home playoff game. With the kids coming back we look to continue to build and to continue to improve the program.”
Rodo finished with seven saves while McCarter had five.
Middletown finished 9-5-3. Masuk, at 9-4-3, will play No. 1 ranked Naugatuck (16-0-0) Thursday in Naugatuck.