Vaca goal in second OT helps Raiders tie Greyhounds, 1-1.
TORRINGTON: Each season, teams from around the State get to pick a few out of conference games in an effort to help better prepare them for the post season.
The choice to stay within their own conference and play each other was about as much as either the Torrington Raiders or Naugatuck Greyhounds could have hoped for as the two Naugatuck Valley foes battled to a 1-1 tied in double overtime.
Kevin Vaca tied the game with 3:05 left in the second overtime after the Greyhounds had cracked a scoreless battle with 2:04 left in the first overtime on a goal by Daniel Martins off a cross from Yan Silva.
Vaca was taken down just outside the box, a similar spot that he had missed from in the first half but with his team’s time fading late, he found the mark by sneaking a shot inside the right side of the net for the equalizer.
“He has been unbelievable for us this year,” Raiders head Coach Mike Fritch Jr. said, “He is an incredible talent.”
It was a good old fashioned NVL battle between two teams that don’t have much of a liking for each other but maintain a high degree of respect for each other.
The head coaches, Fritch and Art Nunes, are as competitive as the players on the field but shake and move on afterwards.
It became a card game at some points on Wednesday night with one red card (Torrington’s Amar Suljic) and a bundle of yellows against both.
The red card against the Raider midfielder came with 32:05 left in the first half after a hard collision between Suljic and the Greyhounds goalie.
Here was the play. A hard charging Suljic and the goalie met at the same time the ball did on a scoring chance. The goalie went down, no whistle blew and the ball remained on the ground next to the keeper.
Suljic had gotten possession of the ball and made his move towards the net when the whistle blew, stopping play.
The referee, who handed out each card himself, none came from his partner, met with Suljic far after the collision and at that point issued the game ending red card.
Not only had the Raiders lost one of their best offensive threats, they would be forced to play a man short the remainder of the half and both overtimes.
That 10 Raiders held off 11 talented Greyhounds for as long as they did was remarkable.
Back to the referee.
Your best official at any sporting event is one you don’t notice, one that does not put themselves into the action, make themselves part of the story.
Now mind you, the boys game is fast and physical and getting faster and stronger every year.
It is simply not easy for two guys to keep this kind of paced game under control but all each coach could ask for is consistency which was lacking at times on Wednesday with the red card certainly a questionable one.
Physical play is always on display when these two teams get together, each has the fair share of offensive weapons that defenders simply cannot afford to let get behind them or midfielders who need to establish a foothold in exactly that area.
A boisterous crowd brought the buzz back in a big way on the second night that the turf field was in use and while the Vaca goal led to a tie, it may have felt like a win for a Raider team that knows they can play with one of the best teams in Class L.
They also know the chances are good they may meet for a third time in the Naugatuck Valley League Tournament come the third week of October and maybe again in the States.
Early in the game, Vaca had a similar free kick a few yards deeper that he sent just wide right but as he has all year, he came through for his team when they needed him most.
“I was confident I was going to make that shot,” Vaca said, “This was one of the greatest tie games I have ever played in.”
The several hundred on hand could not agree more.
Nothing beats a State Tournament environment and for both teams who battled on a spectacular fall night on a tremendous new field they got just that.
Naugatuck remains unbeaten at 9-0-2 while the Raiders sit at 8-2-1.