NORWALK -- Facing its crosstown rival, Norwalk proved it can be pretty dangerous, even at less than full strength.
With star forward Nick Zuniga and midfielder Matt Capomolla limited after both suffered separated shoulders in a win over Ridgefield last Thursday, and Chris Puente sidelined for the remainder of the season with a heart ailment that will require open heart surgery, the Bears regrouped and did what they've done nearly all year--win.
Forward Mike Broncati scored a tie-breaking goal with 19:01 remaining and Kevin Joslyn provided Norwalk some breathing room with a tally of his own later in the half as the Bears stormed past Brien McMahon 3-1 on Tuesday to improve to 7-1-1 overall.
"I think is only going to make us a stronger team. It's another tight game that we won. The boys have consistently responded well to adversity the entire year," Norwalk head coach Chris Laughton said. "Everybody's stepped up. It's been a total team effort."
Zuniga, the Bears' most explosive scoring threat, stepped onto the pitch midway through the second half after getting medical clearance and played a pivotal role. With the Bears clinging to a one-goal lead with just under six minutes remaining, he controlled a pass near midfield and directed a volley to Joslyn, who raced past a defender and pocketed the ball in the net.
"I was hoping I would go in. I wasn't really expecting to play but I was ready no matter what," said Zuniga, adding, "I had to be involved in one goal in this game."
"They cleared him before the game. I thought he was going to be out a little bit longer but he said he wanted to play," Laughton explained. "I really didn't want to use him unless we had to."
After pressuring the net to no avail for much of the second half, Norwalk finally grabbed the lead late as midfielder Nacho Navarro thread a perfectly placed through ball to Broncati, who booted a shot far post past a diving McMahon goalkeeper Arnold Fernandez (six saves).
"We've been practicing through balls in practice and the team chemistry is getting better. We just perfected it then," Broncati said.
Broncati's tally gave the Bears' some much-needed wiggle room against McMahon, which watched its share of scoring chances slip wide. Trailing for much of the first half, the Senators knotted the score with 2.2 seconds remaining before intermission, as forward Christian Echeverri controlled a pass from Rolando Montero, booted one shot off the post, but knocked in his own rebound.
The goal momentarily gave McMahon's struggling offense some life but Norwalk refused to fold--with much help from Zuniga.
"I thought we did a good job controlling the play in the second half," Laughton said. "We just needed that extra push and I think Nick came in and was dangerous. He drew a lot of attention to him and it opened up space for other guys. He's a game-changer."
Norwalk, which held a 12-7 advantage in shots, grabbed the lead less than three minutes into the match as midfielder Erick Romero's free kick from 30 yards out sailed through a crowd of defenders and into the net.
"An OK game," McMahon head coach Ken Dustin said. "The defense didn't match up sometimes. That's where they got their goals from."
NORWALK 3, BRIEN MCMAHON 1
NORWALK 1 2--3
MCMAHON 1 0--1
Goals: N--Erick Romero, Mike Broncati, Kevin Joslyn. M--Christian Echeverri. Assists: N--Nacho Navarro, Nick Zuniga. Goalies: N--Svet Kozak (2 saves); M--Arnold Fernandez (6). Shots: N--12; M--7.