Fifteen points separated the first through eighth seeds during the FCIAC boys soccer regular season, but few would disagree the difference in talent is much closer. Greenwich earned the top spot and will open with Staples, a team it tied during the regular season.
Then again there were few teams the Wreckers did not play to a draw: six of their 16 matches ended up deadlocked. The Cardinals and Trumbull made it to the playoffs unbeaten, but if you want to glean something into what to expect in the week ahead, the eight-team field has combined for 25 ties. A league record?
One wonders if by next Thursday night we will be referring to this as the “Penalty Kick” tournament.
No. 6 Ludlowe (9-6-1) at No. 3 Danbury (10-2-4), 3:30 p.m.
No. 5 Warde (10-4-2) at No. 4 Darien (10-4-2), 3:30 p.m
No. 8 Staples (7-3-6) at No. 1 Greenwich (13-0-3), 3:30 p.m.
No. 7 Stamford (8-5-3) at No. 2 Trumbull (12-0-4), 4 p.m
Greenwich. This may seem like the “duh” selection: the Cardinals are the No. 1 seed so of course they are the favorite. But when you have so many schools of disparate skill sets capable of winning three games in a week — and you can make a case for most of the eight teams — this isn’t necessarily a chalk pick.
Greenwich has the deepest lineup, moves the ball around well and perhaps most importantly gets scoring from a wide array of sources. This isn’t a case of the last two years, when the idea was to closely mark Nick Bartels, the graduated scoring machine. In a 5-0 win over Danbury last week, five different Cardinals scored.
To take down the Cardinals you need to control possession and win 50-50 balls. That may sound true of any game, but Greenwich has flourished because it has been so effective dictating tempo. Alejandro MacLean is dangerous on set pieces. Sophomore Jimmy Johnson has come in and done a nice job in goal.
This is the second straight year the league has produced an unbeaten team — two actually, with Trumbull — through the regular season. It will take a flawless performance to send the Cardinals home.
Darien. The Cardinals started the year 0-2 — losing to Greenwich and Trumbull. The Blue Wave have been formidable since, with just one loss in their last 10 outings. They have performed particularly admirably when not at full strength: injuries have been a season-long issue.
Obviously opponents are going to make sure Pablo Martinez has a full escort anywhere he roams. Sean Gallagher is another dangerous threat. The defense has been formidable — take away Monday’s 5-3 win over Bridgeport Central and since those first two losses, Darien has allowed two goals in a game just twice. One cause for concern: the Blue Wave are just 2-3-2 against the rest of the field.
The Dangerous Low Seed
Staples. It may seem foolish to go with the team that opens against the opponent you have deemed the team to beat, but the Wreckers are well equipped to bring home the gold from the 8th position.
That is true because defense wins championships, and the Wreckers have one of the league’s best. They have allowed just eight goals and as many as two in a game just twice, including Monday’s finale against Fairfield Warde. This is a year where there has been no clear cut most valuable player, but Wreckers goalkeeper Ziggy Hallgarten is in the conversation. The backfield and midfield are solid.
One concern: the Wreckers are not a particularly strong offensive team. They need to convert chances. That is one reason they have played six ties. Which means the odds are good coach Dan Woog has made penalty kicks a priority in practice this week.
I Hate Making Predictions But…
Trumbull. Everyone knows I hate predicting the outcome of high school games and seldom do. Kids feel if you pick against them they are being insulted. So why step out on a limb here? I have just had a funny feeling about the Eagles from the start of the season. This is their first trip to the tournament since 2011, which also happens to be the last time they won it. Then came Monday night, when Trumbull scored three times in the final 11 minutes against Stamford to turn a 2-0 deficit into its 12th win.
The bottom line is the Eagles have the talent. Thang Dao is a threat in the middle of the field, Chris Lancia is accomplished finishing and sophomore Jason Weinstein is an underrated talent.
This is a wide-open tournament, but if I have to throw a nickel onto the table — and I wouldn’t wager anything more — I guess I will put it on the black and gold.