Wreckers boot Greenwich out of FCIACs
The dream for a fourth straight FCIAC title is alive and well for the Staples boys soccer team.
Fourth-seeded Staples kept itself in the mix for a fourth straight title with a 1-0 home victory over Greenwich in the FCIAC quarterfinals Friday at Albie Loeffler Field.
"It's an important win," Wreckers coach Dan Woog said. "We have only three starters back from last year's team, but a lot of our guys know what it's like [playing in FCIACs] by sitting on the bench. We want to get back to the [FCIAC] finals and we took an important first step."
Staples raised its record to 11-2-4 and will face eighth-seeded New Canaan in the FCIAC semifinals today at 5 p.m. at Fairfield Ludlowe. Greenwich dropped to 9-5-3 and will find out its seeding for the Class LL tournament this coming Friday.
Steve Smith scored the only goal of the game when he kicked home the rebound of David Hoffman's shot with 30:01 remaining in the first half. Hoffman took a shot off the right wing that Cardinal goalie Jake Leaman (six saves) made the initial stop on, but knocked the ball straight to Smith, who booted it home.
"I was hanging out on top and the ball bounced out to me, and I kicked it into the top left corner of the net with my left foot," Smith said.
Max Hoberman started the run and passed it down to the line to Hoffman, and they were both credited with assists. Lorenz Esposito acted as a decoy on the play and when he challenged the keeper, Leaman became distracted. Smith knew how important it was to score and did what he could to spring himself free.
"I had someone marking me but I was getting there," Smith said. "It was a great time to score and it gave us momentum for the rest of the half."
The Wreckers had a territorial advantage in the first half, outshooting the Cardinals, 6-4. Hoffman had three shots in the half.
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While the first half belonged to Staples, Greenwich carried play in the second half and ended the game with a 15-13 edge in shots. Peter Zenner was aggressive for the Cardinals and had few opportunities on net, but was stymied by Wrecker goalie James Hickok (10 saves).
Luke Cofer and Marino Patrk played well defensively for Greenwich, which enabled it to attack in the second half. And the Cardinals were relentless. Zenner delivered a strong free kick that sailed wide and Emmett Clarke also pounded a free kick that Hickok caught. Mateo Gowald set up Zenner on a breakaway and Greenwich's junior slammed a shot, but Hickok made a diving save to preserve the lead.
"They shot a lot of direct kicks into the box and they had a tall kid who could head the ball and I had to be solid and on my game," Hickok said. "My defense played well today. I only had to make one big save."
Jake Malowitz said, "James has made huge saves for us all season and we have confidence in him."
Malowitz and Taylor McNair made a few defensive plays for Staples and made diving plays to keep the ball away from Hickok. Ben Root, Alex Tonsberg and Harry Birch also played well defensively with Birch making many plays in the midfield as well.
"Taylor McNair and Ben Root did a great at the center of defense and Alex Tonsberg and I took care of the wings," Malowitz said. "Harry does a good job at winning balls in the midfield."
Woog said, "We have huge confidence in our defense and James is a great keeper. He inspires the team and gets us to play at a high level."
Hickok caught Adam Rafferty's desperation shot in the final seconds to preserve the win.
"We withstood pressure but were in control," Woog said. "It was key how we managed the game today. It was a nice win."
On paper, the Wreckers are favored to beat New Canaan tonight and have a chance to defend their title Friday at Ludlowe. However, they can't take the Rams lightly because on paper, top-seeded Norwalk was expected to beat New Canaan Friday but didn't hold onto a 1-0 lead and lost 2-1 to the Rams. In the regular season, Staples won 1-0 at New Canaan Oct. 21. The Rams also lost 4-2 at Norwalk Oct. 24 but were able to reverse that result.
"We have to do the same thing we did the first time we beat them," Woog said. "They have plenty of dangerous players up top like Jon-Luke Ferrandino, and they have plenty of confidence after coming back from a 1-0 deficit against Norwalk. We match up well with them and it should be another close game."
Malowitz said, "This is what we've looked forward to since the beginning of the season. We're looking forward to the semis."