Pictured: Cromwell’s Joseph Salafia (23) is pressured in his end by North Branford’s Mikey Ricci late in the first half of Monday’s Shoreline soccer game.
By Paul Augeri
CROMWELL – A 4-1 loss to Coginchaug was the final straw. Cromwell was in bad shape after that late-September defeat – only two wins in its first six matches, nearly half of the season already gone.
Angelo Morello, in his first year as Cromwell’s coach, had to do something, so he tore up the game plan.
“We started off playing a 4-4-2 formation, and it didn’t work,” Morello said. “I just made (a change) to something a little more defensive, but also it’s a good offensive attack, too — two holding mids with the four guys in the back.
“(Senior) Carter Newman, he’s our unsung hero. Moving him from right to center back has been the big difference. We’re not getting killed up the middle anymore. It was a tactical formation change after we got blown out by Coginchaug, a big change, but the kids have bought in.”
Since that loss to the Shoreline Conference leaders, Cromwell has won seven of nine (a 7-1-1 stretch) and five in a row, including Monday’s 7-0 rout over North Branford (0-13). The Panthers are 9-4-2 overall and already a postseason qualifier in Class S.
Anthony Caracoglia had a hat trick, Zach Randazzo scored two goals and Shaun Sullivan and Joseph Salafia had one each. Pat Stafstrom had two assists and Caracoglia, Chris Jordan and Austin Antonaras each recorded one for the Panthers.
Caracoglia scored the game’s first goal with just 2:09 gone. Randazzo struck 79 seconds later, and the rout was on.
Cromwell finishes its regular season Wednesday with a match at Valley Regional (the Warriors beat the Panthers 3-0 last month). The Shoreline tournament takes in the top six finishers, and Cromwell is fighting Old Lyme, Hale-Ray and Portland for one of the last two spots.
“We’ll wait and see at the end of the week where we wind up,” Morello said.
The unselfishness that his Panthers exhibited Monday is what he most appreciates about his team.
“They play together. There’s no individuals out there,” Morello said. “They bought in from day one. They know there’s one soccer ball. You have to possess the ball. When we have an opportunity to score, we have to feed. Anthony (Caracoglia) is our go-to guy, but we have other guys who can finish, too.
“It’s about playing together. That’s why we are succeeding the way we are.”
The loss to Coginchaug felt like rock bottom, Morello said. The Panthers were stuck at the bottom of the Shoreline standings with North Branford and Westbrook. Today, the two are still there. The Panthers?
“We just climbed the ladder and finished,” Morello said.
Cromwell’s only “hiccup” in its 7-1-1 run was a 4-1 loss to yearly Shoreline power Old Saybrook, plus a tie against East Hampton. The Panthers’ winning streak began with a 2-1 upset of Morgan, last year’s Shoreline champion. Morgan lost to Old Saybrook in last year’s Class S final.
“That game boosted everyone’s morale,” said Caracoglia, the team’s top scoring threat and one of eight seniors honored after the game. “Everyone was ecstatic after that game, mostly the seniors. It was our first win over Morgan.”
Caracoglia agreed with his coach, that once Morello adjusted the formation, the season took a turn for the better.
“I do think packing the midfield helped us a lot,” he said. “When we went back to two defending mids, that gave me a little more freedom up top to run around. I think that did help a lot more with the passing game that we have.”