Published on October 24th, 2015 | by Staples Soccer0
Wrecker Retrospective: 1996 FCIAC Championship
As the Wreckers begin the quest for their 28th FCIAC championship, here’s Fred Cantor ’71’s 4th installment in our series looking back on some of the most memorable league title matches ever.
The 1996 Staples soccer squad headed into the FCIAC championship game on one of the hottest streaks in the program’s history. After an opening-game tie against Greenwich, the Wreckers went on a 14-0-1 tear. That included a 2-0 dismantling of the Cardinals in a rematch in the FCIAC semifinals — and the score was not indicative of how dominant Staples was.
The Westport News reported: “Kyle Martino and Brad Tursi ran central midfield with aplomb, knocking passes to players’ feet knowing full well they’d get the ball right back.”
Martino was a sophomore. The rest of the squad was mostly seniors — including his brother, goalkeeper Wes.
Kyle went on to great success in the soccer world. He was named Gatorade National High School Player of the Year in 1998, and became a 2-time All-American at the University of Virginia, Major League Soccer Rookie of the Year in 2002, a member of the US national team, and is now a respected commentator on NBC Sports Network’s Premier League coverage.
But even with all he’s accomplished, the FCIAC championship game still holds special meaning for him.
Martino remembers as a young kid being inspired by older players like Chris Mitchell and his team in the FCIACs. The league title game was “a big event.”
When Kyle’s turn came in 1996, he was psyched. He vividly recalls “approaching the field and seeing the lights. It suddenly got very quiet on the team bus.” Years later, as he approached stadiums at night on team buses with his professional clubs, he recalled that special feeling in 1996.
That emotion was reinforced as Kyle got off the bus at the Wilton High School stadium on Halloween, and went on the field with his Staples teammates in front of packed stands. “It was an incredible atmosphere,” Kyle remembers.
The opponent was Danbury, a team the Wreckers defeated 2-1 during the regular season. This time, a great Staples team put on a Barcelona-like display of magic from practically the outset.
According to the Westport News: “The 1996 FCIAC championship will become legendary because of the thoroughness with which the Westporters dominated Danbury; the skill, speed and selflessness they showed all over the field; and of course the electricity of the two goals they scored.”
The first goal came in the 33rd minute. It started with an indirect kick from sweeper Mike Dobbs to Martino. He drilled a shot that hit the underside of the crossbar, then rocketed back out to forward Tyler Mitchell. Fifteen yards out, he struck it perfectly into the right corner.
The 2nd goal, 11 minutes into the second half, was a laser from midfielder Peter Maric, 30 yards out, to the upper corner. Danbury coach Gary Donaldson actually turned to the Staples bench and said, “Great f—ing goal.”
Danbury created one dangerous opportunity in the 2nd half, but Wes Martino made a superb diving save to shut down the Hatters.
After the match coach Jeff Lea, whose teams had now won 11 FCIAC titles, asserted: “This (performance) is right up there with the best of them.” Opposing coach Donaldson conceded, “Almost everything we did was in reaction to what they were doing.”
Looking back, Kyle feels a key to his own success — and that of the team overall — was their focus, and “a drive to excel at practice.” Teammates held each other accountable.
He also notes: “There was a real bond on that team that made that championship so meaningful.” The bond manifests itself today in, among other ways, the fact that Kyle tapped Tyler Mitchell to be the godfather of his daughter.
Finally, reflecting almost 20 years after the 1996 FCIAC title, Kyle notes that he is very glad “to be part of the thread of Staples soccer history.”
The 1996 squad went on the state finals, losing in sudden-death overtime. But that loss in no way diminishes the considerable accomplishments of the team — including an FCIAC championship performance for the ages.