By Dave Ruden
NORWALK — Greenwich boys soccer coach Kurt Putnam was holding court with the media Wednesday night when the awards celebration commenced at the other side of Norwalk High School’s football field.
As if waiting for the cue, Putnam apologized, abruptly stopping as the announcement was made to come accept the FCIAC championship trophy.
I’ve got to go get that,” Putnam said, and like that he jogged off.
Putnam and the Cardinals earned the right to be left alone for a few moments and enjoy their 4-1 win over Ridgefield. For all its success in the sport, it was just the program’s second outright title and first since 2007 — there were shared championships on four other occasions.
“It’s beyond amazing,” said the Cardinals’ Will Gittings, whose brilliant goal in the 22nd minute proved to be the game-winner. “Ever since the first day of preseason we’ve had our eyes on this one game, and to get the win is just out of this world.”
There were a number of reasons for the Cardinals (17-0-2), the top seed, to feel satisfaction. They completed an undefeated conference season, no easy feat in a sport that is always played at a very high and competitive level.
Then there was the fact that the victory came over Ridgefield, the only team the Cardinals did not defeat this season. And the apparent decisiveness of the score was not indicative of the more balanced nature of play.
“To be honest, we won 4-1 but this was not a 4-1 blowout,” Gittings said. “Ridgefield played so well. Ridgefield is such a good team. Easily one of the best teams in the conference and the state. It’s just overwhelming.”
The Tigers entered with a 14-1-3 mark. They were riding a 12-game winning streak, the lone blemishes coming during a seven-day span when they lost to Fairfield Ludlowe and played Staples, Greenwich and New Canaan to draws.
“We came out against a very good team,” Putnam said. “You knew exactly what they were going to be doing.”
Putnam said the Tigers were more seasoned from their first meeting, crediting their coach, Phil Bergen.
“You can see where he brought them from to where he got them to, with their style and tactics,” Putnam said. “That’s a credit to Phil.”
Greenwich took a quick lead in the 8th minute, when Paul Quiroga followed the rebound of his initial shot and scored.
After Greenwich goalkeeper Santiago Irigoyen made a spectacular save to rob Dan Standish of the equalizer, Gittings soared at the far post, a perfect connection of Mateo Gowland’s corner kick to his head, to the upper left side of the goal for a 2-0 lead in the 22nd minute.
“Basically we’ve been emphasizing corners and set pieces all year, and Mateo puts in gems every time,” Gittings said. “He put one on the back post and I was there to finish.”
Ridgefield’s Adam Findlay received a pass from Killian Clancy in the 38th minute to trim the deficit in half, but Nick Bartels, the Cardinals’ explosive sophomore, scored a pair of goals to secure the win.
In many respects, the win was a coronation for the Cardinals, one a long time coming. Putnam said he has coached nine of his 11 starters since they were 11 years old, winning a pair of club titles.
“It was always built to what can we do when we get to high school,” Putnam said. “Last year it was oh so close, and they termed it unfinished business. It was a tall order, You hope you can get back there and scribble out the ‘un’ bit.”
Putnam took a calculated risk keeping 29 players, many of them seniors. It would seem to go against Coaching 101, trying to keep everyone — and the parents — happy.
“There are about 10 kids who didn’t get in today but they just fuel the team,” Gittings said. “Every training session, every bus ride. They’re the heart and soul of the team.”
Now Putnam will have to spring for some new shirts, for finished business was the order of the night.
“It’s great for them,” Putnam said. “The credit goes to the boys out there. They’re the ones who deserve it. They’re the ones who sacrificed.”