Falcons fly early, then hang on for Class S first round boys soccer home win

St. Paul junior captain Nick Rieger, left, celebrates his goal with Juan Pablo Del Valle Rangel during the first half of Tuesday evening’s Class S first round boys soccer game against Housatonic Regional-Falls Village at McPhee Field in Bristol. The Falcons held on for a 2-1 win. (Copyright, Sports on CT-69)

Survive and advance.

That’s the ultimate objective in a high school state tournament. Survive and advance. That’s what No. 10 St. Paul boys soccer head coach Joe Campos told his team after a 2-1 win over No. 23 Housatonic Regional-Falls Village on Tuesday evening in a Class S first round state tournament game at McPhee Field in Bristol. The Falcons play at No. 7 St. Bernard-Uncasville on Thursday at 2 p.m. in a second round contest.

St. Paul scored twice in the first 5:04 of the game, then milked that two-goal lead for the rest of the opening 40 minutes. After the Mountaineers sliced that advantage in half on a header less than two minutes into the second half, the Falcons held on to their slim lead for the final 38-plus minutes. Housatonic threw everything it had at St. Paul, including what seemed like corner kick after corner kick, but the home team held off the upstart visitors from the Berkshire League. The Falcons did so while not being at full strength. Already down a key defender, St. Paul lost a key midfielder for a good chunk of the second half. That player did return, though not at 100%.

Anthony Gagliardi and Nick Rieger scored the goals for the Falcons. Gagliardi put one home off a Jaiden Esprit ground cross just 3:57 in. Sixty-seven seconds later, Gagliardi passed ahead to Rieger, who broke in and blasted one into the right side of the goal for a 2-0 lead. The Mountaineers stayed in the game, thanks to great goalkeeping from Abram Kirshner and all-around play from Manny Matsudaira.

It was Matsudaira who headed home an Everet Belancik corner to get Housatonic to within 2-1. St. Paul battled the visitors the rest of the way. The Falcons, who have been hit by injuries, limped their way to the victory. As Campos said, it’s survive and advance. That’s exactly what St. Paul did, and it has at least another 80 minutes of soccer to play on Thursday.

GALLERY: Here are my photos from Tuesday evening’s game.