TRUMBULL — It is hard to assert a team with just three losses lacks a signature win, but the Danbury boys soccer team went into Saturday’s Class LL quarterfinal with Trumbull feeling the need for some validation.
Seeing that they had lost only to the Eagles and Greenwich — which both started the day unbeaten — any criticism of the Hatters would be nit-picking. Except that their aspirations have been to ascend to that top pedestal.
After a great start and a near-flawless effort lifted Danbury to a 4-2 win at Trumbull that made it the last FCIAC team still alive, the attention was turned from the climb to winning a state title.
The victory avenged a pair of losses to Trumbull, including a 3-2 decision in the FCIAC semifinals in which Eagles goalkeeper Jonathan Campbell made a spectacular save right before the final whistle.
“Early on we looked really good,” said Antony Howard, who has done a masterly job in his first season as Danbury’s coach. “It was almost a reverse of the semifinal. We got early goals and then it’s tough to keep trying to push for that third. Then what happens is you kind of invite pressure. We kind of let them get into the flow of the game. And for a long time it was tight. We said at halftime the next goal is going to be key.”
Danbury (14-3-4), the 11th seed, will face No. 7 Shelton in the semifinals. The Gaels upset Greenwich earlier in the day. Staples was also eliminated by Farmington.
Captain Kevin Spennato, who scored twice for Danbury, admitted he didn’t think the Hatters would be the sole survivor, adding, “We are going to give our hometown a championship.”
It is not often the goalkeeper of a team that scores four times receives the bulk of attention, but the Hatters’ David Mollenthiel, whose seven saves came with a high degree of difficulty, seized the spotlight.
“That’s the difference,” Howard said. “You get a goalkeeper who pulls off two or three saves like that. The score easily could have been 5-4. Without a shadow of a doubt the man of the match.”
Trumbull coach Sebe Gangemi shared his thought with Mollenthiel during the postgame line.
“I told him he was the MVP of the game in my opinion,” Gangemi said.
The Hatters used through passes and creative attacks to build quality chances early, and converted on two of them. Ricardo Rodriguez got behind the defense and scored in the 12th minute, and then Spennato found space and delivered a high shot for a 2-0 lead in the 21st minute.
“We’re a good unit,” Gangemi said. “We worked really hard for this. It happens. We got a little bit outplayed tonight. The first 20 minutes we were ready but we were not ready. They took advantage of us.”
Trumbull (16-1-5), the No. 3 seed, had not allowed a goal in the first two games of the tournament and was admittedly stunned. But the Eagles settled down and got a goal back in the 30th minute, when Thang Dao redirected a shot by Connor Jorge.
The Eagles came close to equalizing before the break, but Mollenthiel stopped point-blank shots by Jorge and Jason Weinstein.
“We were able to get an early lead, broke down a little bit but we were able to come back strong in the second half,” Mollenthiel said. “That’s what it’s all about. We felt like we needed to redeem ourselves. We came so close the first time. It’s all or nothing now.”
Mollenthiel, with a little help, again denied the Eagles a tying goal during a sequence in the 62nd minute. First he punched a shot off a corner by Daniel Folchick over the crossbar, then got good fortune when Panayiotis Xenakis hit a shot through a crowd off the crossbar.
From there, the Hatters got a penalty kick from Arnold Galicia in the 70th minute and a spectacular goal by Spennato set up by Jason Cordova.
“We sucked up a lot of pressure early in the second half and I thought we weathered the storm, and they obviously pushed and pushed and pushed and it opened it up and we were able to punch in a couple at the end,” Howard said.
Trumbull got a goal from Weinstein in the final seconds.
“The last few minutes my heart was beating so fast,” Mollenthiel said. “It’s crazy but our team pulled through and played like a family.”
The Trumbull players were unconsolable afterward. The team met for nearly 20 minutes, when coaches and players sharing memories on a season ended abruptly.
“It’s very devastating for us,” Gangemi said. “It is what it is. It’s hard to swallow right now.”
For Danbury, the conference demons exorcised, the focus now is on two more wins and a state title.
“It was a hard game, we knew that coming in here, but we just never stopped,” Spennato said. “We kept going at them, going at them. I couldn’t ask for a better game than this.”