It’s a long season, and there are only so many superlatives to describe Mattheus Souza’s play.
Indeed, the Conard High senior forward scored a hat trick against Southington on Friday to lead the Chieftains boys soccer team to a 3-2 victory.
He’s now scored five goals in just two games, and while soccer is a team sport, it’s also difficult to ignore that Souza is one of the most lethal strikers in the state.
“It is a team sport, and everyone has their roles,” Conard head coach Adam Linker said. “I love Mattheus, he’s a great kid. We’re very fortunate he does his job [scoring goals] very well.”
Souza opened Conard’s account in the 14th minute when he took a feed from Andre Rodrigues on the left side of Southington’s final third. Souza chested the ball, worked it left, then cut back right and fired a shot inside the near post.
The Chieftains controlled possession for most of the game, but Southington executed a long-ball/counterattacking strategy well, threatening a number of times in the first half.
The Blue Knights leveled in the 45th minute, when Sean Conway was sent on through on a long ball and slotted home to make it 1-1.
Less than two minutes later, Souza channeled his inner Cristiano Ronaldo, exquisitely tucking a 20-yard free kick into the top left corner to give Conard a 2-1 lead.
Souza gave Conard a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 lead in the 53rd minute when he completed his hat trick.
“You give him an inch, and he makes you pay for it,” Southington head coach Dave Yanosy said of Souza.
But Southington showed its industry and resolve by pulling within a goal when Conway earned a penalty when he broke through again and was taken down in the Conard box. Mike Aylett easily converted from the spot to make it 3-2.
But the equalizer never came, and Conard improved to a perfect 2-0 on the year, while the Blue Knights fell to 1-1.
Southington head coach Dave Yanosy said that he is pleased with his team’s improvement over last year, when the Blue Knights went 2-12-2. With an opening-night victory over Middletown and a tough loss to Conard, Southington is on the right track, Yanosy said.
“We came up a little bit short, but I was really proud of the way we played,” Yanosky said. “We had probably four or five quality opportunities in the first half. … We’ve just got to continue to work on those things. The biggest thing with us is we’ve got to start believing in our abilities that we can match up with the better teams and get some points against them.”
Linker credited Southington for a well-executed game plan.
“They played a very effective style against us,” Linker said. “They were looking to play the ball over the top and run. They were not trying to string passes together.”
Still, Linker said that his team appeared distracted at times.
“One of the things I always preach is that my players be there 100 percent, mentally and physically,” he said. “I thought we had some lapses.”
But Linker said he is pleased with his team’s performance just two games into the year (Conard defeated Berlin 4-2 on the road opening night).
“I’m proud of my players,” Linker said. “No matter how critical I will be and picky I will be about their play, I am unbelievably proud of them. They’re kids, they’re going to remember this for the rest of their lives.
“I’m exceptionally proud that they have had two tough games and have come out with two wins. But there are still things we need to work on. I lost a lot of kids from last year. A lot. Probably 15 or 16 guys graduated and I lost a kid to the academy program. I have half of my starting lineup back, but I also have half my guys who weren’t on varsity last year.”
Linker said that the intensity and speed of the game is vastly different between junior varsity and varsity.
“And for those reasons, I am incredibly proud of them that they have won two games,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean they don’t have things to work on.”
Chieftains forward Kevin Yigle played well, threatening goal several times. Goalie Neil Droney had six saves for Conard.