Published on October 31st, 2019 | by Staples Soccer0
FCIAC Quarterfinals Match Report: Staples vs. Danbury
In the second game of the FCIAC season, Staples traveled to Danbury. The Hatters were pre-season favorites to win the league. Their stellar defense was anchored by returning All-New England pick Tyler Warren.
Playing at Mill Ridge School — a nice turf field — while the high school track was being redone, the Hatters picked up a 1-0 victory. Their goal came off a defensive giveaway, 5 minutes into the 2nd half. The Wreckers’ press gave the hosts fits all game long, however. When the match was over, the Staples coaches said, “We’d love to see these guys again.”
Mill Ridge was once again the site. This time the stakes were higher: the FCIAC tournament quarterfinals. Danbury (10-3-3) was the 3rd seed. Staples (8-4-4) was 6th.
But little separated the top 8 — or 10 — teams in the league this year. There were ties galore, the usual upsets, and — except for Fairfield Warde (#1, 13-0-3) — everyone stumbled occasionally.
All year long, the Wreckers have started slowly. Their second halves have been substantially better than their first.
Not today. Playing with a strong wind sometimes at their backs, sometimes blowing crossfield — though the rain let up just before kickoff — they took control of the match from the start. Once again they pressed. But this time — after a season of playing together — they backed each other up better. They played balls to feet with more confidence. They knew each other’s runs and styles, and had trust and confidence in every teammate.
In the 34th minute, center back Surya Balaji dumped a long free kick into the box. Patricio Perez Elorza’s bicycle kick nearly connected. But keeper Matthew Silva came up with one of several great saves.
Two minutes later, Perez Elorza found George Smith. The junior’s shot flew inches high.
The 2nd half opened with Westport keeper Reed Caney — the junior who gets more sure-handed and better positioned every game — punching a dangerous long bouncing ball over the top for a corner kick.
The Hatters’ corners were very dangerous. Staples marked alertly though, and — except for one scary moment, when 2 men broke free — they banged those, and other close-in chances, out long.
Balaji commanded his defense well. He was paired with Brendan Lynch, a tall senior who won a number of contested balls, in the air and on the ground. Benny Feuer was in control on the left side, initiating many counter attacks, while on the right Carter Bassler anticipated well, stuck in hard and laced strong passes into the corner.
In the 44th minute — almost exactly when Danbury struck in the first game — the blue-and-whites did the same. Balaji’s long free kick was flicked on, at an angle, by Lynch. Evan Birns — the senior former Development Academy player whose speed and ball skills in tight spaces lifted his team earlier in the season — calmly struck a side-of-the-foot volley. It was well-timed, well-taken, and unstoppable.
It was one of Staples’ prettiest goals of the year. And it launched a raucous celebration.
Danbury came right back. Four minutes later, Caney made a superb stop. The Hatters threw everything at the Wreckers. “Are we going to have to play defense for the next 30 minutes?” someone on the sideline asked.
The answer was no. After a 10-minute flurry, the Westporters regained control of the match. Perez Elorza and Murilo Moreno won more than their share of 50-50 balls at midfield, roared forward, then raced back to defend. Sam Liles — the co-captain, and Birns’ complement on the right side — had one of his best matches, using speed and guile to cause havoc on the right side.
Smith, Alan Fiore, Emerson Anvari, Lars Djuve and Josh DeDomenico took turns pressing up top. They played clever 1-2s, but at the same time were unafraid to take men on.
Perez Elorza nearly made it 2-0 in the 64th minute, from DeDomenico. Once again, Silva made a fine stop.
Danbury surged forward in the waning minutes. But the Wreckers were equal to the task. Balaji’s crushing tackle with 4 minutes to play snuffed out the Hatters’ last hopes.
It was Staples’ best team effort of the season. They played with brains and heart; they showed skills, smarts and grit.
But this was only the first match of the FCIAC tournament. Four teams remain — including Trumbull.
The Eagles (#2, 10-2-4) and Norwalk (#7, 7-3-6) battled to a 0-0 draw in their quarterfinal. Trumbull prevailed, 4-3 on penalty kicks.
They’ve done it before, too. Last year they won their first 2 FCIAC games on PKs — including the semifinal against Staples — before edging Danbury 1-0 for the league crown.
Staples has not forgotten that match. Nor have they forgotten the regular season game this year, at Trumbull. The Eagles scored twice in the first 17 minutes. But the Wreckers fought back, earning a 2-2 draw.
They wanted a rematch with Danbury. They got it.
They wanted a rematch with Trumbull. Now they’ve got it too.
That FCIAC semifinal is set for Tuesday, 7 p.m. at Fairfield Ludlowe.
The FCIAC boys soccer tournament — one of the best high school sports events around — continues to sizzle. FINAL SCORE: Staples 1, Danbury 0. SEASON RECORD: 9-4-4.
QUICK KICKS: In the other quarterfinals, #1 Fairfield Warde topped #8 (and crosstown rival) Fairfield Ludlowe 4-2, in overtime, while #4 Greenwich lost a 1-0 lead with 3:25 remaining, and fell 2-1 to #5 Wilton….
Both sub-varsity teams ended their season with rainouts. Coach Russell Oost-Lievense and Reilly Lynch’s reserves finish the year with a sparking 11-1-2 mark, while coach Chris O’Dell’s freshmen close out with an equally fine 9-1-1 record. Congratulations to all players and coaches.