MERIDEN —Maloney boys soccer dropped its home opener in a tightly contested CCC South encounter at Falcon Field on Tuesday afternoon.
Central had first-half goals from Alex Kuzniar and Henry Rosas to take a 2-1 halftime lead. That score held through the second half until the 72nd minute, when Rafael Antonio put the Rams up by the final score, 3-1.
“This is my eighth year coaching and there hasn’t been a game against Maloney that hasn’t been tough,” Central coach Nate Jandreau said. “I was really proud of the guys staying really gritty throughout the game.”
The Maloney goal came from senior forward Jack Hernandez in the first half. At the time, it tied the game at 1-1.
Bristol Central (2-3) took a 1-0 lead in the third minute as Frank Palma crossed to Kuzniar, who put it in with one touch.
After the BC goal, the Spartans (1-3) built some momentum as Cristiano Cardentey forced Central keeper Harrison Ross to make a diving stop.
In the 10th minute, Maloney’s Brady Jachym took a free kick from 30 yards on target, but Ross collected it for another of his four saves on the day.
Maloney eventually got the equalizer when Hernandez scored in the 21st minute on a breakaway. Hernandez was freed by a perfect long pass from Andre Peralta. Hernandez caught up to it and made one move, then put it in the net.
It was his first goal of the young season.
The stalemate did not last long. Central found the back of the net three minutes later on a header by Rosas in the 24th minute from inside of the box past Spartan junior keeper Logan Brazel, who made three strong saves in the first half and five overall in the game.
Maloney had the better of the play for the first 20 minutes of the second half, including three corner kicks, but couldn’t cash in. On one of the corners, Hernandez got off a shot in a crowded box that strayed over the top of the crossbar.
Hernandez later hit the post with nine minutes left. It would have been the game-tying goal.
“We were struggling in the first half and were much better in the second half,” Hernandez said. “We need to improve. I’m glad I scored one goal today and I wanted to score again, but I hit the post. It was unlucky.”
Central added insurance in the 72nd minute when Palma took a free kick from just outside the box on the right wing and placed it perfectly for Antonio.
“Frank was putting the ball in the right places and we were finishing, and that’s what we need,” Jandreau said.
Tuesday marked Maloney’s home opener after road losses to Bristol Eastern (2-1) and Berlin (1-0) and a 3-1 road victory over Bloomfield.
Starting with Tuesday’s game, Maloney will be home for the next five contests and eight of its next nine.
“The first few games were a little tough,” first-year Spartan coach A.J. Hodge said. “We are implementing a new style and they are adjusting to a new coach. But since the Bloomfield game the boys have been flying around practice. That win was a kick-start to our season.”
Maloney’s top players in the early going have been junior center-defender Blake Benigni, Jachym and Hernandez.
Jachym, a sophomore center-midfielder, had a hat trick against Bloomfield. He missed his freshman season with a torn meniscus.
“It was great to get my first three varsity goals and us getting that win,” Jachym said. “It was great to celebrate with my team.”
Hodge is deploying a fast-paced style with a underlying plan of keeping the ball on the ground with short passes and focusing on the technical aspects of the game.
He likes his team to be organized and compact and to build from the back. He also likes all 11 players on the field to be involved.
Maloney has three senior captains: Kofi Asamoah, Andre Peralta and Benigni. Jonathan McAuliffe is a vice-captain for the Spartans.
Maloney looks to get back in the win column with a home match on Thursday against Lewis Mills.
“We did a good job possessing the ball today, but we have to do a better job in the final third attacking so we can score on our chances,” Hodge said. “We need to cut out the individual mistakes because we have given up goals that were preventable. Once we do that, we will be a little bit more formidable.”