The scouting report on New Milford was clear: Contain dangerous Brazilian midfielder Miguel Carneiro. Defend well against long throws. Play Staples’ game, and force the Green Wave to adapt.
At the end of yesterday’s training, Wrecker goalkeeper coach Tom Henske told the team: “This is like in school, where the teacher told you exactly what questions will be on the test. You’re crazy if you don’t study those questions. You guys have studied well.”
It was a great training session — fast, focused, intense yet fun — and that’s the mood the blue-and-whites brought with them to Ridgefield High’s Tiger Hollow. Every Wrecker knew what he needed to do. He was ready to do it — and to have a great time doing so.
A Wrecker whiteout crowd filled 3 large sections of the stands on a mild afternoon. New Milford filled 2 — and they were stunned when, just 2:15 after the opening whistle, Mikey Scott took a long throw. Brendan Lesch outleaped the tall defense — and headed past keeper Jack Holub. Staples has scored early often this year — most recently against Amity, in the state quarterfinals — but never this quickly. And not against a state finalist, known for stingy defense.
Four minutes later, they struck again. Scott’s corner kick found Brendan Lesch. His volley was blocked, but it bounced out to Mike White. The quad-captain pounced and rebounded it in, for an even more stunning 2-0 lead.
The Westporters kept pressuring. White’s speed bedeviled the Green Wave, in the corners and straight up. Greg Gudis won balls through sheer determination, then initiated dangerous offensive forays.
Scott was a workhorse on the left flank, while right midfielder and quad-captain Andrew McNair had perhaps his best match in a Staples uniform. A defensive dynamo, his transition to attack was crisp and true.
Lesch, the multi-faceted central midfielder, combined creativity with toughness. Alan Reiter, his central midfield partner and another quad-captain, built on his dynamic Glastonbury semifinal performance by covering enormous swaths of territory, finding seams with his passes, and holding on deftly to create space for himself and teammates when the situation demanded it.
Matteo Marzoli came on to provide elegant distribution, and solid marking defensively.
Behind them, Mikey Fitzgerald was a powerful 1st line of defense. Staples’ tallest field player, he commanded the air — but, as he has done all season long, went forward with abandon.
Outside backs Sean Gallagher and Frankie Bergonzi were twin iron curtains. Bergonzi’s speed and Gallagher’s intuitive positioning bedeviled New Milford all afternoon. Few Wavers slipped through; when 1 did, quad-captain Jack Hennessy annihilated the threat. Heading powerfully, sweeping laterally with speed and poise, and leading with his voice, Hennessy kept the front 9 in line.
Keeper Michael McCarthy was battling an illness — but no one would have known it. He boxed crosses when he needed to; caught them when he could, and was so steady with his positioning, saves and outlets that New Milford never had a dangerous shot on net.
Yet the 2-0 halftime score could have been dangerous. Down 2-0 with just 30 minutes to play in their semifinal to potent Guilford, the Green Wave roared back with 4 goals to win, 4-2.
Equally intriguing was Staples’ Round of 16 match with Newtown. The Wreckers led 2-0 at halftime — but allowed 2 second-half scores, then played 2 scoreless overtimes. That game was decided by penalty kicks (4-3 Staples) — and became known as “a near-death experience.”
Head coach Dan Woog and his staff talked about none of that at intermission. Instead they invoked the soccer cliche — “It’s a 0-0 game!” — but emphasized that there are truths behind cliches.
Attack, attack, attack, the coaches said. Don’t sit back; don’t let New Milford back in the game. Their coaches are telling them they’re still in it, Woog, Henske and Kurt Dasbach said. Don’t let them believe it.
They didn’t. Three minutes after play resumed, Bergonzi laced a cross. Gudis hauled it in and shot to the back post. Holub bobbled it — and Scott nailed it decisively. Now it was 3-0.
Less than 3 minutes later, it was 4. Lesch and White combined; Lesch got it back, and side-volleyed a shot over the keeper. The junior opened the season with a breathtaking bicycle kick in a scrimmage against Wethersfield; he bookended it with an only slightly less remarkable strike.
Steve Denowitz spelled Fitzgerald on defense, and continued to prevent penetration. Jake Krosse came on to wreak havoc on the side.
As the match wound down to its final minutes, Justin Hawrysh, Nate Greenberg, Jason Bennett and Nick Cion joined fellow seniors McCarthy, Hennessy, Fitzgerald, Reiter, McNair and White on the field.
When the final whistle blew — signaling Staples’ 12th state championship, and 1st since 1993 — all 11 seniors on the team were playing. It was a fitting tribute to the Wreckers’ fine legacy — to all the players who have come before, who helped get this team to the title; to Albie Loeffler, the program’s founder who died 2 months ago, 1 day shy of his 94th birthday; and to the importance of commitment to a team and a goal, over a long period of time.
It also sent a strong message: 11 seniors graduate from this championship team. But 14 underclassmen return next year — including 5 starters.
The Wreckers’ junior varsity and freshman teams were both undefeated. Those players — and dozens of even younger Westporters — sat in the stands. They saw and felt Staples soccer magic. They vowed to be part of such a game next year, 2 years, 5 or 10 years from now.
Here we go, Staples. Here we go. Final score: Staples 4, New Milford 0. Season record: 22-2.
QUICK KICKS: Staples’ 22 wins breaks the record of 21 — set just last year….
Of Staples’ 12 state championship teams, only 3 have also won an FCIAC title outright (no co-champions because of ties) in the same year. They are 1971, 1972 and now 2009….
The win was the Wreckers’ most lopsided state final in history. The previous most 1-sided score came in 1967: 3-0 over Brien McMahon….
The Staples boys soccer program began in 1958. Since then, the Wreckers have won state titles in 5 straight decades: 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s….
Lesch was named MVP of the state final game, in a vote by coaches and officials at the game….
Stuart (1978) and Michael (2009) McCarthy became the 1st father-son team to win Staples soccer state championships….
Staples outshot New Milford 21-12, and led in corner kicks 5-1….
WWPT-FM again streamed the match around the world. Matt Sych ’07 and Fred Cantor ’71 provided halftime analysis. They were 2 of scores of alumni who were at the match. Some wore their state championship jackets; all helped lift the Wreckers to victory….
Following a new tradition begun in the FCIAC championship, the Wreckers rushed into the stands following the match, hugging, high-fiving and thanking their friends, family and Superfans for their great support….
The crowd was close to 3,000….
The Top of the Hill Team again sponsored buses for the JV and freshman teams….
Mikey Fitzgerald has not washed his white uniform since the final game of the regular season — nearly a month. It was quite ripe….
For the 1st time ever, the Wreckers did not meet at Staples for an away game. With the school parking lot — and North Avenue — filled with a crafts fair, the team met at Coleytown Elementary School….
Brookfield — 1 of 2 teams to defeat Staples this year — won the state “L” (large schools) championship. The Bobcats beat New Canaan 3-2….
Other members of the state championship squad not previously mentioned include Dylan Evans, James Hickok, Court Lake, Jake Malowitz, Alex Tonsberg, Connor Walsh and Luke Yeager.
NOTE: Click here for a special photo page, with shots from the state championship match.