Sofiene Afif scores goal, Warde advances

Every year it seems as if one team manages to rise from obscurity to make a run at a state championship.
After executing its game plan to near perfection during the first round of the Class LL tournament against Shelton High, the Fairfield Warde boys soccer team could be on its way to doing just that.
Senior Sofiene Afif scored the only goal of the game in the 12th minute on a high shot from 30 yards out and the 20th-seeded Mustangs made it stand up with a tremendous effort on defense, holding on for a 1-0 victory over No. 13 Shelton Tuesday night at Finn Stadium.
Warde (8-6-4), which will face No. 4 Glastonbury (13-1-3) in the second round Thursday afternoon, opened the game in a defensive posture, hoping to defuse Shelton’s talent up front.
After getting the opening goal of the game, the Mustangs buckled down even tighter on the back line, using the type of physicality that’s common in the FCIAC.
Strong performances from Tom Luckner and Kyle Millington  kept the Gaels from mounting any serious offensive threats.
Shelton had five shots over the first 10 minutes of the first half and just eight the rest of the game.
“I knew they had a lot of attacking prowess, so our focus was defensive shape,” Warde head coach Justin Ottavio said.
“We held our shape very, very well. Our sweeper, Luckner, and our stopper, Millington, did a great job collapsing on the ball. There were very few second-ball chances for Shelton.”
The Mustangs only had one good scoring opportunity in the first half, but that was all they needed to take an early lead.
The play was started out of the defensive side of the field. Senior defender Jack Anderson gained possession, and carried it deep into the offensive zone with a long run up the right side.
Anderson dished off to Griffin Pugh, who crossed it from the right side to the center of the field. Afif then buried a long shot that beat Shelton goalie Claudio LoBello high on the right side.
That allowed Warde to relax and play the type of defensive game they intended.
“I think the goal allowed us to have confidence,” Ottavio said. “We came in as the twenty seed, but we were the seventh-ranked team in the FCIAC, one of the toughest conferences in the state, so we should have confidence. That goal helped build more confidence.”
Now it seems as if the sky’s the limit for the Mustangs, who seem to have all the ingredients for a long, unexpected run.
“I think we have a chance,” Luckner said. “We have the defense, so I think we have a shot. We’ve had our challenges throughout the year, but we fought through it to get into the FCIAC’s and I think we can fight through it now.”
Shelton (9-5-3), which lost in the first round of the SCC tournament on penalty kicks, was not accustomed to playing such a physical style. After the Mustangs scored early, the Gaels seemed to lose their drive.
“We have trouble sometimes with a physical opponent,” Shelton head coach Joe D’Auria said. “They were just knocking us off the ball and we couldn’t get into a rhythm. We had some opportunities. We just couldn’t capitalize. They had their one opportunity in the first half and they buried it.”
Shelton had five corner kicks over the first 18 minutes, but managed just four shots on goal over that span, choosing to play short passes instead of lofting serves into the box.
“We run a couple of set plays, but after running it one or two times, we ran it a couple more when they should have been services to the box,” D’Auria said. “Looking back, you wish you could get those back and do it over again the right way.”
In order for its state run to continue, the Mustangs will have to get past Glastonbury, which posted an easy 5-0 win over No. 29 Hamden in the first round.
“I know they come out of the CCC, which is a very reputable conference,” Ottavio said. “Historically they’ve had a great program. The girls are playing them (Wednesday) and we’re going up there again on Thursday. I’m sure they’re going to be very tough.”
Warde sophomore goalie Michael Lerner made seven saves to post the shutout, including six in the first half, getting solid support from captain Mike Foley at left defensive back, senior James Baldwin at midfield and junior forward Brendan King, who helped the Mustangs keep pressure on the Shelton goal with just two players forcing the issue on offense.

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