NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk soccer player Andrew Melitsanopoulos joined his brothers and parents for a photo on the New Canaan High School football field after Friday’s 2-0 win versus Fairfield Prep in the Class LL championship game.
Melitsanopoulos scored the game-winning goal for the Bears, who won their first championship since 1966. Really, however, Melitsanopoulos' state title was a family affair. His brothers, Paul and Dean, were former stars for the Bears, helping the team win the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference title in 2002. That was the last time the team won a league crown before this year, when the Bears shared the conference crown with Ridgefield.
Melitsanopoulos, however, has one thing his older brothers don’t -- a state crown. As the family, including parents Dino and Martha gathered for the photo, it was obvious the whole family celebrated in his achievement. The Melitsanopoulos clan is the First Family of Norwalk Soccer, and they all took pride in the youngest son’s accomplishment.
“As a brother, you always want something like this to happen,’’ said Paul, who is the goalkeeper coach for Norwalk. “As a coach, you picture it every single day and you tell the kids to work hard for this moment. You picture it every single day. But nothing is guaranteed. This is a byproduct of all the little things.”
The brothers played different positions during their high school careers. Paul played goalie for Norwalk from 2000-2004, and then went on to a standout career at Western Connecticut State University. Dean began his career at Norwalk, transferred to Rye Country Day and went on to help Brown University win a pair of Ivy League championships.
After a gap of a few years, Andrew became the latest Melitsanopoulos boy to join the Bears. He had a distinguished career as well, earning all-league honors as a junior. He was the anchor on the backline this fall as the team registered 13 shutouts. His penalty kick in the first half staked the Bears to a 1-0 lead against the Jesuits and it held up until Nacho Navarro got a late insurance goal.
It has been a long journey for the family, one that has had its ups and downs. The 2002 team with Dean and Paul lost in the quarterfinals of the state tournament to eventual state champion Newtown. Paul was the captain of a rebuilding team in 2003 that went 7-8-1 and failed to qualify for the state tournament. Andrew’s team lost in the first-round of the league tournament each of the last two years, and lost in the semifinals of the state tournament last year.
Through it all, they all believed they eventually would win a state championship. Finally, on the last game for the last brother, the Melitsanopoulos family achieved a goal that had been 12 years in the making. Paul Melitsanopoulos entered the school in 2000, Dean one year later. They may not have been on the field during Friday’s game, but they were definitely a part of it, as were the parents. Paul said the family planned to celebrate Friday with pizza at Jordan’s.
“We just love Norwalk so much,’’ Paul said. “This isn’t just for the team. This is for the whole city. We always knew that this was what we wanted to do. We love soccer, we love this town. Now, we have stories we can tell our grandkids.”