If you were to choose a popular movie title as a description of FCIAC boys soccer, it would be The Usual Suspects. At least recently.
There is a core group of teams that make regular league playoff appearances, with their places in the standings the lone question mark. Occasionally you get a surprise, like Stamford finishing third a year ago. Danbury has returned to the top of the pack in recent years.
My top five for this fall have won outright or shared the league title every year going back to 2004.
Greenwich is the defending champion and will have a slippery road as it goes for a repeat.
Greenwich. The Cardinals had 160 players at tryouts (the football team had 200 on the field last week; where is the assembly line that produces fall male athletes on campus?) and coach Kurt Putnam again had a deep talent pool to draw from. Not all of it is experienced, so it may take a little time for the cohesion to develop.
Jimmy Johnson is back for his third season as one of the state’s elite goalkeepers. Francisco Liguori is the leader at midfield, while Ben Rifkin is the defensive anchor. The midfield is an area of strength, as is team depth.
The Cardinals were picked by league coaches to finish first in their preseason poll. That is always the safe bet, but Greenwich has the pieces to go back to back.
Staples. The Wreckers are not getting a great amount of preseason love, which is just fine with them. The program has hit a streak of just modest postseason success, in large part because no school has been hit harder by players who defected to academy soccer.
This year brings a slight reversal, with Austin Sholes and Matthew Tanzer joining the team. They will combine with Vaughan Sealey and Patricio Perez Elorza to give Staples a potentially dominant midfield. Ry Cohen is back in goal.
The storyline of an addition to the trophy case in the 60th year of the program is realistic.
Trumbull. The Eagles lost to the Cardinals in last year’s final and were hit hard by graduation losses. This program has reached the level of regular reloading, and there is every reason to believe another strong run is inevitable.
Jason Weinstein (29 goals last two seasons) is the league’s most dangerous scoring threat, while Tiago Frazao returns at midfield. Much like with Greenwich, unfamiliar names in early September become marked men come mid October.
Trumbull has just four senior starters so the development by the rest of the lineup will likely dictate this year’s finish.
Norwalk. The Bears had the deepest run of any league team in the state tournament and is looking to build on that finish.
Michael Hidalgo, a four-year starter who scored the dramatic last-second winning goal to eliminate Ridgefield from the CIAC playoffs, will be closely guarded by opponents, while Matt Hernandez is a solid complement up front. The defense should also be a strength. The Bears will again be dangerous.
Fairfield Ludlowe. The Falcons were picked to finish fifth in the coaches’ poll so calling them a sleeper may not be an accurate label, though this is the way middle of the playoff pack teams in this league are viewed.
Kristo Boci is a threat at midfield, while Nicko Rulio should be an elite defender.
The Falcons have a high ceiling but will be tested by a tough early schedule.
15 Players To Watch
Alexi Apostolidis, Trinity Catholic
Kristo Boci, Fairfield Ludlowe
Tiago Frazao, Trumbull
Michael Hidalgo, Norwalk
Jimmy Johnson, Greenwich
Francisco Liguori, Greenwich
Alex Pane, Danbury
Eli Pardo, Brien McMahon
Ben Rifkin, Greenwich
Vaughan Sealey, Staples
Charlie Sears, Darien
Austin Sholes, Staples
Matthew Tanzer, Staples
Tyler Warren, Danbury
Jason Weinstein, Trumbull
Players To Watch
Bridgeport Central: Joshua Smith, Ricardo Carneiro, Jose Santos, Ahwar Charubin.
Danbury: D Tyler Warren, D/M Alex Pane, M Riley Moore.
Darien: D Charlie Sears, M Liam Flaherty, M Johann Trippitelli, M Connor Olson, F Max Marcin, Siddhant Parwal.
Fairfield Ludlowe: G Nicholas Teneiro, D Colin Agostisi, D Nicko Rulio, D Liam Waldron, D Kyle Mazza, D Jack Owens, M Calum Crawford, M Matt Rullo, M Patrick Kilbride, M Kristo Boci, M Ryan Burress, F Zaid Atta, F Amar Sumra.
Fairfield Warde: Lucas Montero, Cameron Millington, Jake Berecz, Mark Morataya.
Greenwich: Jimmy Johnson, Sasha Burnett, Ben Rifkin, Thomas Streiff, Aden Cuellar, Davi Pedreiro, Lucas Jordao, Francisco Ligouri, Chris Cruz, Joao Pedro Lima, Johnny Agudelo, Kai Jennings, Woojin Kwai, Shoki Araki, Farid Ghaliya, Rodane McKenzie.
Brien McMahon: F Eli Pardo, M George Simpson, G Bert Santiago, D Emmett Towey, D Jose Barragan, M Chris Ocampo, F Masai Castillero, M Leonardo Guzman.
Norwalk: G Gianluca Trofa, F Michael Hidalgo, F Matt Hernandez, D Lance Garcia, D Iovanni Robledo, D Cesar Rivera, D Jorge Gonzalez, D Christian Gavrielidis, M Will Gaviria, F Oskar Otalvaro, M Pablo Jimenez, M Kevin Carabali, M Mateo Davalos, F Greg Foster, F Seif Samy.
Ridgefield: M Nicholas Yulo, D Ben Riek, M Charles Poremba, M Ruben Mendoza, D Andrew Masciotti, D Nicholas Gasparo, M Andrew Conte, M Owen Churner, D Tristan Brandt, M Tim Vanni, G Raymond Dearth, F Ben Ragland.
St. Joseph: G Tyler Higgins, D Kenny Schneider, D Nicholas Valverde, D Mark Leonardi, D Jack McDermott, M Sawyer Meehan, M Jack Attanasio, M Carlos Barrera, M Ethan Ziegler, F Christian Cinque, F Robert Razzaia.
Stamford: D/M Lemene Dieuferson, D/M Josh Lakoff, D Zachary Tusa, D Cole Cahoon, M Ricalson Michel, M Christian Carmona, M Brian Coronado, M Mamadou Diallo, F Kenly Lalonne, F Nevin Avila.
Staples: F Lefty Pendarakis, F Wilson Daniels, F Sam Liles, M Nick Ambrose, M Austin Sholes, M Matthew Tanzer, M Vaughan Sealey, M Patricio Perez Elorza, D Gabe Baltierra, D Callum Wisher, G Ry Cohen.
Trinity Catholic: G Luke Tomas, D Kevin DiCicco, D Gianluca Magnifico, D Alexi Apostolidis, D Rafael Utrecho, M Ben Lunny, M David Broughton, M Zach Therrien, M Micheal Smolak, M Andreas Rivero, F Alex Romanczuk.
Trumbull: F Jason Weinstein, D John Michael Recker, D Bryant Recker, M Tiago Frazao, D Carrigan Cullinan, F Andrew Restrepo, M Howard Qian, M Nicola Milovanov, M Claudinei Moreira, F Justin Horvath.
Wilton: D Michael Zizzadoro, D Andrew Bucciero, D Karl Pfieffer, M Chase Connolly, M Connor Uitterdijk, M Liam McLaughlin, M Owen Lillis, D Zach Abud, D Andrew Zizzadoro, G Kace Stewart.