Wolves stun MLS' Tampa Bay in Open cup contest, 3-2
By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Connecticut Sports Online
NEW BRITAIN, June 26, 2001 -- The last few seasons have been difficult for the Connecticut Wolves soccer team. Few wins, few dollars and few fans have been seen at Veterans Memorial Stadium for the A League squad.
Last year, under the ownership of the city of New Britain for the first time, the team was last in the league with one win, a league-low 22 goals scored and 57 goals allowed in 28 games (1-19-8).
Since them, it's all been moving in the opposite direction -- up.
The Wolves earned what may be one of the most crucial wins in the history of the franchise Tuesday night with a stunning 3-2 win over MLS' Tampa Bay Mutiny in the second round of the 2001 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament.
It was no fluke, either. The Wolves (11-5-3) outshot Tampa Bay, 13-9 and moved the ball without too much interference from the Mutiny. Connecticut used its speed and hustle to win its first-ever Open Cup tournament contest before a crowd of 4,362 on a beautiful, warm summer evening.
"It came down to who wanted it more. We wanted it," said Wolves midfielder Winston Griffiths, who had a goal and assist.
This team has little in common with the 2000 squad or any of the previous Wolves teams. Assistant coach David Kelly, who has played four games of the first 15 games, started in the Wolves' first-ever game in 1993 remains along with fan favorite Erik Barbieri, who led the team in scoring in 1997 (6 goals, 3 assists, 15 points) and 2000 (4-2, 10).
But it is basically a new cast for second-year head coach Dan Gasper. The 2001 edition is littered with MLS veteran players and international players with national team and Olympic team experience.
State native David Vaudreuil (Miami, D.C. United, Colorado), Tony Soto (Los Angeles, Kansas City), Jake Dancy (New York, Kansas City), Adam Eyre (New England), Fabio Zuniga (New England) and Temoc Suarez (Dallas) all have MLS experience.
Winston Griffiths has 56 caps with the Jamaican national team while Dean Sevell has 40 caps with Jamaica. Forward Mobi Oparaku played with the Nigerian national team in the 1996 Olympics and 1998 World Cup.
"We're getting better by the game," Gasper said. "No opponent has outplayed us this year. We have players that have been (in MLS) and want to get back there. They continue to play with hunger. We attacked very aggressively."
Connecticut used its hustle to seize a 1-0 lead with only four minutes gone in the second half. On a direct kick, Suarez looped the ball into the penalty box. It deflected off a Tampa Bay defender to Oparaku, whose hard header from about four yards off the end line went off the hands of goalie Matt Nyman, the former Xavier High goalie from Westbrook.
Tampa tied the game on a goal by Devin Barclay six minutes later but the Wolves responded two minutes later with the burst of speed. Griffiths blasted through the Mutiny defense, between two players and beat Nyman with a shot to the right side. Connecticut took a 3-1 lead with five minutes left.
When a Mutiny defender gave up on the ball, Griffiths kept a loose ball alive on the sideline and took it up field. His passed to a wide-open Irasto Knights, who beat Nyman with a shot to the right side.
"It's not just about talent," Gasper said. "It is about having the heart and that's what we had today."
"We have a lot of team speed," said Barbieri, who sat out Tuesday's game with a sprained ankle. "There are a lot of teams that can't keep up with us. It's not at one position, either. It's all over the field."
The Wolves have spread out their scoring. Suarez leads the team with five goals and five assists for 15 points while Oyuga (4-1, 9), Griffiths (3-4, 10) and Zuniga (4-0, 8) are also contributing.
The win was Connecticut's first-ever in Cup play. They had lost in 1995 to the New York Centaurs, 3-0. Tampa Bay lost its opening round Cup game for the first time since 1997 when they lost to the A-League's Rochester squad, 3-2 in overtime.
The Wolves, who return to A League play Friday night when they host Toronto at Willow Brook Park, will face either Richmond (A League) or Reading Rage (third division, Pro League) in the third round of the tournament (round of 16) on July 11. Connecticut (10-5-3) trails the Hershey Wildcats (10-6-2) by three points in the A League's Northern Conference.
Wolves goalie Adam Throop, who helped his Chicago PCL team earn a Open Cup win over Kansas City a year ago in a penalty kick shootout, made three saves. Throop, a 6-foot-6 goalie, was drafted earlier this year by the Mutiny.