Finals-bound Wreckers avenge loss to Glastonbury in semis
The Staples boys soccer team is going back to the Class LL finals. With a 3-2 win over previously undefeated Glastonbury Tomahawks on Wednesday at West Haven High School, the fifth-seeded Wreckers have given themselves the chance to win their 12th State Championship and first since 1993 when they face sixth-seeded New Milford at Ridgefield High School tomorrow at noon. This game and this victory were impressive for Staples in so many ways. The Tomahawks came into the contest as the top-ranked team in New England and fifth-ranked nationally.
Moreover, the Wreckers were out for revenge. Glastonbury came back in the last eight minutes in the semifinals to beat Staples last year. Head Coach Dan Woog said that Glastonbury "nailed us last year; it was silent on the bus ride home. We're a year older, a year tougher" and it showed as Staples raised its record to 21-2 and solved Glastonbury senior goalie and Notre Dame bound Adam LaPlaca, the first team to do so since mid-October.
The first half started off with the Wreckers playing their usual game of controlling the ball across the field. Glastonbury was taller and very fast, tried the long ball approach for most of the first half where they would send booming long kicks over the top of the Wreckers, only to be repelled by the stellar defensive squad of senior captain Jack Hennessy, classmate Mikey Fitzgerald and juniors Sean Gallagher and Frankie Bergonzi. That foursome was rock solid all evening long and the frustrated Tomahawk players took it out with a very physical brand of soccer. Glastonbury started out very aggressively only to be pushed back by the Wreckers. Staples senior goalie Michael McCarthy had an easy roller for his first save and was helped early by solid tackling and clearing passes from his defensemen.
Six minutes in, streaking senior captain Mike White shot past the Glastonbury defense only to be caught up short by LaPlaca. All half long, White kept pushing and pushing the ball into the Tomahawk end, eluding the defense with his crafty footwork and deft shooting. The Staples Captain was always a step faster than Glastonbury's defense.
Both sides had a number of chances as the half moved along, although the Wreckers seemed more intent on pressing the Tomahawk defense, who kept up their long-ball clearing strategy. With White pressing the issue after great feeds from juniors Brendan Lesch and Greg Gudis and the ever-active senior captain Drew McNair, Staples had numerous opportunities that were put aside. The Wreckers outshot the Tomahawks 19-13, but the saves were closer with McCarthy making 11 saves and LaPlaca stopping 10 shots.
McCarthy praised his defensemen and said, "They are always there in front of me and nothing gets through."
With 8:20 left in the half, White had a shot deflected again as he couldn't find an open lane to penetrate. Seconds later White fed a streaking Matteo Marzoli who missed right of the Tomahawk goal. Just when it started to look like the half would end 0-0, Gudis bent a shot Beckham-like from about 20 yards out over LaPlaca into the upper right corner for a 1-0 Staples lead with 4:10 left in the half. Barely a minute later, Galstonbury captain William Belden bounced a shot in front of and then over McCarthy to tie it 1-1. But the tenacious Wreckers didn't let that get them down and less than a minute later, junior Mikey Scott's long throw-in found the streaking Fitzgerald for the go-ahead score to give Staples a 2-1 halftime lead.
The second half started with Glastonbury changing its strategy and pressing the Wreckers even harder in this physical contest that was kept under control. The Wreckers kept up their offensive push with Scott and McNair racing down each side and feeding Lesch, White and Gudis. A trip on White at 36:29 gave the Wreckers a free kick that went high followed by a throw-in and a corner from Scott, both knocked down by LaPlaca.
Gallagher squashed Glastonbury's tries at scoring.
The action stayed mostly in the Tomahawk end until the 31 minute mark when a streaking Fitzgerald headed in a Scott throw-in to make it 3-1.
Not having been in this situation before, Glastonbury turned up the pressure and started to push frantically to even the match. McCarthy had his toughest saves in this next 10-minute period. With 22:36 left, Glastonbury's Jared Stratos bounced one in front and into the goal to close the gap to 3-2, which only seemed to energize the Wrecker fans. With less than 19 minutes left, Staples used ball control, pinpoint passing and clears to preserve the lead.
This is a very disciplined and cerebral Wrecker team. They always seem to be anticipating one, two or even three plays in the future. Woog said, "They got better as the game went on; it was a tremendous effort by the guys."
Fitzgerald, who Woog said "has become a complete player this year", was knocked around all night but was beaming after the game. "Coach stressed that I should keep moving up. I also know when to kick it out and it all seemed to work tonight."