NORWALK -- It's often said familiarity breeds contempt. As the Class LL second round boys soccer match between No. 1 Norwalk and rival Staples, the No. 17 seed, went along, the players -- many of whom are teammates in the offseason -- were at times exhibiting a style of play more akin to American football than the desired futbol.
Yellow cards -- three for each team-- were in far more evidence than offensive runs. And the game's lone goal -- scored by Norwalk's Nacho Navarro on a loose ball in front of the Staples net at 16:54 of the second half -- was the most rewarding piece of the bruising match.
Soccer might be the beautiful game, but sometimes you have to win ugly. And the Bears were making no apologies for how they beat their heated rivals following the 1-0 win.
"We didn't play our best," Navarro said. "It wasn't just our composure. They made us play like this. They weren't looking to play soccer, they were just kicking the ball up there and being aggressive. So we had to bring our aggressive side. It wasn't pretty soccer but we came through."
Top-seeded Norwalk will host the winner of Sunday's Wilton-Newtown match in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Wilton is responsible for Norwalk's lone loss on the season.
Norwalk (18-1-1), which scored five goals in winning a share of the FCIAC tournament on Tuesday and five goals against Hamden in Friday's state tournament opener, was kept in check throughout the match.
The game plan coming in for Staples -- which during the regular season played Norwalk to a scoreless first half before losing 2-0 -- was to keep a fourth defender back in an effort to thwart Norwalk's explosive offense. The strategy worked brilliantly.
"That was the best game we've played all year, up against No. 1 Norwalk," Staples captain Joe Greenwald said. "We had a game plan, we met the night before. We slid Harry Birch into the back and he played a phenomenal game."
Norwalk struggled to get opportunities. Their best chance to score in the first half came when Santiago Muriel took a beautiful pass from Jose Canahui in the 28th minute, dribbled to the top of the box and blasted a shot that went to the left of Staples goalkeeper James Hickok (nine saves) but missed the net.
The Bears managed just one shot on goal in the first 40 minutes. Staples had more -- five in the opening half -- but all of them landed harmlessly in the hands of Norwalk goalie Svet Kozak (10 saves).
Staples head coach Dan Woog said he knew his team's opportunities would be limited on offense, but it was the tradeoff that the Wreckers needed to make to keep the match close.
"We always say it's a lot better to win a game 1-0 than 5-4. We had our chances. Their defense is rock solid, and they proved it again today," Woog said.
The match was chippy from the start and got progressively worse as it went along. For Staples, Greenwald, Birch and Diego Alanis earned yellow cards that sent them off for 10 minutes each. For Norwalk, yellow cards were issued ton Canahui, Santiago Muriel and Navarro.
"We have a long history with this Norwalk team, and there was a lot of hostility as you could see," Greenwald said.
The coaches were more diplomatic.
"I think soccer is a physical game," Woog said. "It's a tactical game. It's what happens when Norwalk and Staples play. We've got a great rivalry."
Norwalk head coach Chris Laughton said the match was driven more by competitive fire than contempt.
"Neither team wanted to give in, and sometimes it gets to that point," Laughton said. "But luckily nobody got hurt."
NORWALK 1, STAPLES 0
STAPLES 0 0--0
NORWALK 0 1--1
Records: Norwalk 18-1-1,Staples 11-6-2.
Goals: N--Nacho Navarro. Goalies: S--James Hickok (9 saves); N -- Svet Kozak (10). Shots: S--11; N--9.