NORWALK — After 180 minutes over the course of two games, neither the Greenwich nor Trumbull boys soccer teams could get the best of the other. And through 19 games, neither could be defeated.
Penalty kicks would have led to the preferred outcome after the Cardinals and Eagles played to a 1-1 draw and shared the FCIAC title on Thursday night at Norwalk High School. Players from both sides were laid out on the field at the end, part exhausted, part feeling disappointment at not being crowned an undisputed champion. There was not a joyous celebration in site.
There may be no more awkward display of emotion in sport than a title-game draw — which is why there are provisions made to prevent them, with a few exceptions (like the NFL the past two weeks).
But as both players from Greenwich (15-0-4) and Trumbull (14-0-5) jogged across the pitch to their respective fan bases Thursday — quite possibly the first time two teams in the sport went through the league season without a loss — their coaches concurred that some ties may be fairer than others, and if so this was one of those instances.
“I think both teams got something out of it at the end of the day,” Greenwich coach Kurt Putnam said. “They will probably both go home bittersweet, everybody wants to come away being a champion, but that was a war between two heavyweights that couldn’t find another knockout punch. I go away actually quite satisfied because I felt my boys hung in there quite well. I think either side neutralized each other. I don’t think it was the type of game probably we hoped for but when you are going to be playing that physical and such a fast-paced game, it was difficult to get a ton of possession.”
Putnam has had to share a trophy before. The Cardinals have now been co-champions five times. Putnam said he was more at ease with this one.
“It would have been really really awful I think if one team had ended up losing that match to be honest,” Putnam said.
Trumbull coach Sebe Gangemi, whose team won the title in 2011 and had not qualified for the FCIAC Tournament since until this fall, also has shared a championship, in 2006.
“They hit us in the first 15, 20 minutes with a goal but I think we took control in the second half and we played our best in the second half,” Gangemi said. “I thought we could have beaten them in the second half but we didn’t. We got lucky and they got lucky. I thought we could beat them in the second half, but we didn’t. We got unlucky. Neither one of us deserved to lose. That’s two great teams, two of the best teams in the state. It’s a fair result.”
After playing to a scoreless draw in the first meeting, it took just two minutes for the first goal between the teams this year. As Alejandro MacLean lined up for a set piece, a position from where he struck the decisive goal in Tuesday’s semifinal with Fairfield Warde, Putnam shouted out to him, “Think about where you want to put this.”
Rather than on net, MacLean passed off to Flavien Lolo, who scored to the far side with his left foot.
As the teams slogged back and forth, creating few good chances, it appeared that perhaps the game was headed for 78 more scoreless minutes.
But the Eagles were able to mount a few creative attacks in the second half, and Dan Flochick was able to get high into the air on Matt Restrepo’s corner kick in the 48th minute and head the ball off the bottom of the crossbar and into the net.
And then for 52 more minutes, two very even teams remained deadlocked.
“Once it all settles down you still have the trophy at the end of the season,” Putnam said. “I hope we don’t see them again. You know what you’re going to get again. It was actually a privilege to be a part of that. A physical, good spirited game. Both teams are obviously unbeaten. I’m OK with that.”
A state tournament meeting would not only be a treat for the teams’ fan bases, but as long as it was not in the championship game, where ties are also unsettled, it would mean that one side would finally achieve that elusive victory.
And then hopefully both the FCIAC and CIAC will reconsider the reasons why they settle ties in almost every other sport but soccer.