Branford Boys’ Soccer Grateful to be Playing Games
Senior Raffaele Ciarleglio scored two goals and assisted on another when the Branford boys’ soccer squad notched a 3-0 victory at Wilbur Cross on Oct. 13. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Senior Mykael Zuniga-Cordova and the Hornets moved to 3-1 on the season after splitting a pair of recent matchups. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
The Branford boys’ soccer team is playing a game of catchup this fall, although you wouldn’t think so based on the way the Hornets are performing during the early goings of their campaign. After one of the players on the team tested positive for COVID-19 last month, Branford had to postpone the start of its regular season as its athletes went into quarantine through Oct. 5.
The Hornets didn’t play their season opener until Oct. 8, which was one week later than other soccer teams in the state played their first games. However, despite missing out on some valuable preparation time, Branford is still sporting a record of 3-1 on the year and has posted all three of its victories via shutout. In last week’s matchups, Head Coach Paul Hunter’s squad notched a 3-0 road win versus Wilbur Cross and then took a 2-0 road loss against Guilford.
Branford came into the week on the heels of shutout victories over Career-Hillhouse (6-0) and East Haven (5-0). Entering their second week of play, the Hornets were looking to build upon their solid start when they traveled to New Haven to play Wilbur Cross on Oct. 13. Bolstered by two goals and an assist from senior captain striker Raffaele Ciarleglio, Branford defeated the Governors by the final score of 3-0 at Bowen Field.
“We played pretty well. It’s not a finished article by any stretch of the imagination, but we’re progressing game by game,” Coach Hunter said. “It was a good effort. Cross has a nice team. They caused us a few problems. But all in all, 3-0, it was a good victory.”
After senior outside midfielder Mykael Zuniga-Cordova was brought down in the box during the 29th minute of the game, Ciarleglio stepped up to take the penalty kick for the Hornets and sent it home to give them a 1-0 lead. Branford held on to its one-goal edge heading into halftime and then played the entire second half one man up after a Wilbur Cross player was given a red card just before the break.
At halftime, Coach Hunter told the Hornets to play aggressive to try and put the game away in the second stanza.
“They were down a man, and we were hopefully going to press a bit,” said Hunter. “We try to be a possession-based team and take advantage of mismatches. We’ve got two strikers with good pace up top, so we try and take advantage of that. Hopefully, we’re going to get them free.”
Coming out of the break, Ciarleglio assisted junior striker Dimitrios Gionteris for a goal that gave Branford a 2-0 lead in the 48th minute. In the 66th minute, Gionteris sent a pass to Ciarleglio, who deposited the ball into the back of the net for his second goal that made the score 3-0 in favor of the Hornets. Senior captain goalkeeper Alec Aceves-Acosta earned the win in net for Hunter’s club.
“Ever since he was a sophomore with us, Ralf has been our best PK taker,” Hunter said of Ciarleglio. “He’s a quality player, has good pace up top. He thinks the game well. He and Dimitri seem to be forming a fairly good relationship up front, where they’re playing off each other. They can cause some teams some problems.”
On Oct. 16, Branford hit the road to play an away game against Guilford and dropped a 2-0 decision for its first loss of the year. Guilford scored the first goal of the game on a header off of a corner kick in the 13th minute. Guilford struck again when senior Aidan Buchanan scored what Coach Hunter called a “world class goal” from 30 yards out in the 34th minute.
“Those are always difficult games. Guilford has a really good, quality program,” Coach Hunter said. “It was a bit sloppy, but it was a 50-50 contest. Them scoring the first goal on a header off a free kick wasn’t the best situation for us. We should have challenged a bit better.”
Despite the loss, Coach Hunter has been impressed with the Hornets’ ability to move the ball forward thus far this year. While he knows that his team is not a finished product, Hunter said that Branford’s midfielders are doing a good job of finding Ciarleglio and Gionteris, and that the two strikers are capitalizing on their scoring chances.
Like all teams around the state, the Hornets have had to deal with numerous practice restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and weren’t able to practice at all after one of their athletes tested positive. Coach Hunter said that Branford’s practices are more about keeping his team healthy than anything else. While Hunter knows that the 2020 season is unlike any other, he also knows that the Hornets feel grateful for the opportunity to show the type of the team they are through their performance on the pitch.
“It has been great. Obviously, we’re limited in what we can do, but at the same time, at least we’re getting to do something, which is the most important thing for the players,” said Hunter. “I can’t imagine what it would have been like last spring without even having baseball or lacrosse or what have you. In a sense, we’re happy we are at least out on the field, getting a chance to play some other schools and being able to compete.”
In addition to Aceves-Acosta, Ciarleglio, and Mykael Zuniga-Cordova, the seniors on Branford’s roster are captains Matt Cordero (center back) and Din Durmic (center midfielder), along with Julio Tozetto (outside midfielder/outside back) and Rocky Verdesoto (sweeper). Junior Sebastian Verdesoto (center midfielder), junior Dylan Sachs (left back), junior Peyton Moriarity (outside midfielder), and freshman Sebastian Zuniga-Cordova (right back) are among the key underclassmen on the team.
Sports Editor Chris Piccirillo contributed to this story.