The Wreckers arrived at Danbury’s new turf stadium knowing the same thing as the Hatters: This final contest of the FCIAC regular season was a Big Game.
Staples was in 7th place, just 1 point ahead of their hosts. Both sides had already qualified for the FCIAC tournament — beginning Friday — but each was looking to avoid an opening-round match with 1st-place Norwalk.
The Westporters were missing Harry Birch (injury), but they started out very strongly. Noah Bender earned a 2nd-minute corner kick; Jordan McNair just missed with the header.
One minute later, Bender’s seeing-eye through ball found Joe Greenwald, whose shot caromed off the outside of the post.
Greenwald, Bender, McNair, Diego Alanis and Andrew Travers pressed well all over the field. They doubled up intensely, and tracked back nicely.
Defenders Greg Shikowitz, Ethan Bradeen, Andrew Puchala, Jack Scott and Yousef Shahin kept themselves tight, and allowed Danbury mostly long-range shots.
Keeper James Hickok was tested a few times, and came up big when called upon. One save — at the edge of the box, on a near-breakaway — was particularly sick.
But the Hatters’ quick counters were on too. They worked the sides of the field well, and were dangerous from there. This is one of Danbury’s best teams in years, and they gave no quarter.
With less than 4 minutes to go before halftime, Alanis served a corner kick. It bounced off several heads, and finally landed at Andrew Travers’ feet.
He touched over to Puchala — a defender used on set pieces for his height. This time, he scored with his foot. He slammed a low, hard shot, and just before intermission the Wreckers had the lead.
It lasted all of 40 seconds after the half. Hatter tri-captain Jordan Warren capitalized on a pair of deflections to finish from close range. As has happened a few times this year, the blue-and-whites let an opponent back in the match.
No matter. Staples went right back to work. Playing with ferocity, they went forward with numbers. They found teammates’ feet, knocking the ball around with speed, purpose and poise.
But despite several chances — Bender’s deflected shot was saved well by keeper Ian Shannon; Greenwald earned a corner kick, but no one was at the far post to convert; Alanis’ shot was saved beautifully; other opportunities went awry too — as the clock wound down, the score remained even.
A tie would have been okay, statistically speaking — the Wreckers would finish 7th. But spiritually, it would have been just as bad as a loss. It would have meant another lead squandered. It would have left a foul taste in the team’s mouth, right when they needed to feel some momentum heading into FCIACs.
So Staples pressed for the win.
With 3 minutes to play — and rain beginning to fall — another near-miss in front of the box seemed to summarize the entire game.
But with 1 minute remaining, Staples surged forward. With Hickok urging them on, they went on one final attack. Scott raced from the back into the box.
Greenwald played a quick ball upfield. Bender took it in stride. He took a quick touch, drew Shannon out, and very calmly finished — like Puchala — hard and low.
The Wrecker bench erupted. It was the most emotional goal of the year — and one of the most important.
Just 58 seconds showed on the clock.
“This was a big win,” said head coach Dan Woog, stating the obvious. “We’ve been on the other side of matches like this a few times, and it’s not fun.
“Our guys have worked really, really hard to get where they are. Now they know how to win a game like this. They’ve got confidence, and momentum. It’s fun to see. I’m happy for them, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. And the best part is — as we often say — the best is yet to come.” FINAL SCORE: Staples 2, Danbury 1. FINAL SEASON RECORD: 10-4-2.
QUICK KICKS: The victory — coupled with New Canaan’s 4-0 loss to Norwalk tonight — lifted the Wreckers into 6th place. They’ll travel to either Ridgefield or Greenwich on Friday in the FCIAC tournament quarterfinal, depending on the outcome of those teams’ matches tonight….
After starting the season 3-3, Staples finished 7-1-2….
Nearly 100 people watched the livestream of tonight’s match….
The junior varsity fell behind 2-0 at Danbury, then played a ferocious 2nd half to tie 2-2. Steven Sobel scored off a corner kick from Ryan Ruggiano, and Daniel Boyce’s long shot was deflected in off a defender….
The freshmen suffered their only blemish of the year — a 1-1 tie with Danbury — but coach Chris O’Dell was very pleased. “They played phenomenally against a very good team,” he said. “It was a top-level game.” Graham Gudis’ free kick with 6 minutes remaining earned the draw for the frosh, who finished with a superb 10-0-1 record.