WESTPORT — There were hard tackles, extremely rugged play that at times crossed over the grey area of being clean, a flurry of yellow cards, a player ejection and postgame tears.
You didn’t have to question whether today’s Central Region semifinal game between the Staples and Brien McMahon boys soccer teams would be treated like a traditional postseason contest in a non-pandemic year.
The Senators, playing for the first time since Oct. 14 because of a Covid outbreak at their school that forced them to quarantine for two weeks, held on for a 1-0 victory on Max Aidebe’s header off a corner kick in the 39th minute.
Well, not technically a header.
“It was very physical,” Aidebe said. “At this moment I have no breath. On the corner kick I saw that no one had jumped with me and I said I’ll just take it and I got it with my ear, not my head. It was the famous ear goal. It was my time to shine.”
McMahon, which like all fall teams and maybe more so has picked up an added appreciation over the past two months for the simple joy of playing a sport, will face unbeaten Wilton on Friday afternoon for the title. The unbeaten Warriors defeated Ridgefield in today’s other semifinal 5-1.
The division will hold just two playoff rounds because two schools, Norwalk and Danbury, have been forced to quarantine just as McMahon and Ridgefield returned.
“When you’re away from soccer that you love so much, and you get a second chance, you’ve got to take it,” McMahon coach Rodrigo Guzman said. “We took it.”
Don’t try and tell Guzman that today was not a bonafide postseason contest. Guzman played for the Senators 35 years ago and called his brother, who was a teammate, before today’s game. He has been the coach at McMahon for five years and lost his two previous games at Loeffler Field by a combined 9-0 margin.
Today was Guzman’s first win ever over the Wreckers, a measuring-stick program, and he twice teared up in a postgame interview.
“Let me tell you, Staples, there is a reason they have so many championships,” said Guzman, pointing to a shed that listed their 27 league and 12 state titles. “And you have to go through a champion in order to at least get to the finals. And we’re humble. We will go to the finals humble. I’m proud because this field is not easy to play on. Real soccer and real grass. My players gave everything they had. Everything.”
There were few good scoring chances in the first half. The Senators’ Yerson Villalobos hit the post in the 9th minute. Aidebe soon broke the deadlock, finishing a corner kick by Villalobos.
“We’re blessed to have him,” Guzman said of Aidebe. “He just came out of nowhere last year. He’s a big addition to the program. A top 25 player easily if we had a full season.”
McMahon goalkeeper Luis Hernandez twice had to make difficult saves to preserve the lead, stopping first Will Adams and then Haydn Siroka.
As time was winding down and desperation set in, there were a number of plays that could have drawn yellow cards, some that did and a near skirmish that fortunately did not escalate into something more serious.
“It was a battle,” Staples coach Dan Woog said. “McMahon has a great team coming back after being away 14 days. They really did a great job.”
Woog also got emotional after the end of an abbreviated season
“For kids who have been through so much this year, being on the field was two hours of normalcy a day,” he said. “We had seven games. Usually we play 20 or 21. And the seven games were very special.”
The Senators will now also get a seventh game. Today was their fourth straight win after an 0-1-1 start.
“We’ve been sitting at home. In our minds it was over for us because most of us are seniors,” Aidebe said. “It is my senior year so I wanted to prove to the program that I could do something. Now we can win something for our school. It has been a long time. We take it seriously. It still means something.”