By Dave Ruden
When the FCIAC Boys Soccer Tournament kicked off on Friday, there were eight teams optimistic about their championship chances.
Perhaps few players were more appreciative of the opportunity than Ryan Casolo, the starting sweeper for Ridgefield, who has overcome a litany of injuries to get back on the field.
“I’m really looking forward to the playoffs,” Casolo said prior to the Tigers’ 2-1 opening-round win over Fairfield Warde. “I have been through a lot.”
That is something of an understatement. It all started a year ago, when Casolo was going for a 50-50 ball in a first-round FCIAC playoff game against New Canaan. Casolo sustained a broken leg and torn ligaments connecting the leg to his ankle.
Casolo was on the bench as the Tigers won their semifinal game and shared the league title with Norwalk (there was no final played because of Superstorm Sandy).
“It stunk,” Casolo said of being sidelined. “But we won and it was more important for us to get it done.”
Casolo said he went through physical therapy for three months, three to four times a week, for two to three hours at a time.
“It was awful,” Casolo said. “It was depressing not being able to do anything, just lounging around the house.”
Casolo returned six months after the surgery, only to pull his groin muscle during a summer camp that kept him out for another month. He made it back for the Tigers’ season opener against Fairfield Warde.
In the last five minutes of the game, Casolo was hit in the stomach, tearing his ureter, a tube that connects the kidney to the bladder. The initial diagnosis was that Casolo would miss the rest of the year.
“The doctors at Yale told me I was not going to play this season,” Casolo said.
“I felt horrible for him,” Ridgefield coach Phil Bergen said. “He’s one of the nicest kids I’ve ever coached. He’s a coachable kid and he’s liked by his peers. It was tough to see him go through it. To think the kid was going to end his high school career and not have the experience he deserved.”
Casolo finally got good news during a follow-up examination: after missing a month doctors said his injury had healed quicker than expected and he was cleared to play.
“That was great,” Casolo said. “Especially after what we were first told.”
Casolo was back in the lineup for five games before sustaining a twisted ankle. Though he said he could have played, Casolo was kept out of the lineup so he could heal for the postseason.
Ridgefield, with a 12-1-3 mark, earned the No. 2 seed in the conference playoffs. It will face No. 6 Stamford in Monday’s semifinals.
“Having him back really helps because he’s confident and reads the game very well,” Bergen said.
Casolo admitted his overall fitness is still lacking.
“I’m working on it,” he said. “I’m not where I want to be at this point.”
Casolo said if he plays soccer in college, it will be on the club or recreational level. He just wants to savor the final weeks of his Ridgefield career — hopefully on the field.
“That’s the thing,” he said. “I just have to make it back for this next month and honestly I don’t care what happens after that.”