DANBURY — Antony Howard thought his players’ batteries had been operating close to empty for about a week, but for most of today’s Class LL quarterfinal game, the Danbury boys soccer team was able to grind out a strong performance that appeared good enough to get them to the next round.
The Hatters’ capitalized on a mistake in the 45th minute to take a 1-0 lead over East Hartford. Few FCIAC teams have been better equipped this season to protect an advantage.
The 19th-seeded Hornets, who have been impressive during the tournament, were able to convert one of their few opportunities, in the 74th minute, to forge a tie.
Then, after two overtime periods, East Hartford goalkeeper Julio Argueta, whose miscue accounted for Danbury’s score, made a save in the final round of penalty kicks while the Hornets went five for five to advance to the semifinals, 1-1 (5-4 PKs).
“I thought it was actually the best we’ve played in a while,” Howard said. “We controlled the tempo of the game for most of regulation, and then you’re six or seven minutes away from going through and we just kind of ran out of legs a little. The season has kind of caught up with us. We’ve had a number of injuries. I am not making any excuses but I thought we kind of controlled the game. We just couldn’t get over the finish line. PKs is a horrible way to go out but I’m proud of the boys. I thought we put on a good show today.”
With just three starters back, the Hatters (14-3-5) had more modest expectations than what was achieved. Led by a stifling defense spearheaded by Warren, generally considered the league’s best player this season, Danbury won the regular season title and reached the FCIAC championship before losing to Trumbull. It conceded more than two goals in a game just twice and the most one-sided loss was by a 2-0 margin to Greenwich, which also went down today in the quarterfinals.
“People who weren’t expected to play so well really stepped up,” Warren said. “It’s a tough way to lose. They are a very talented team. It was a great game. It could have gone either way. Two evenly matched teams I think.”
The Hornets (12-4-3), coming off the momentum from a 3-0 win over Fairfield Prep, posed problems with their offensive power, but for the most part were well contained. Robert Sam and Emmanuel Ofori, their two most dangerous players, were boxed in for most of the day.
Ofori, until the tying goal, had East Hartford’s best chance, in the 3rd minute. He solidly one-timed a ball in the air put into the box, but was just high and put it off the football crossbar behind the goal.
Chances were sparing as well for Danbury, but it still took a 1-0 advantage after Argueta mishandled a ball. Tiago DosReis, whose late goal got the Hatters into their league championship, did not give up on the play and was able to score into an empty net.
The lead held up until a nice play by Ofori to get the ball in front of the net, where Wilbert Hercules had enough room to finish.
“We should have had more men back but it happens,” Warren said. “I thought we did a great job in the back.”
The Hatters were close to putting their signature on the outcome in a manner Howard envisioned.
“If we can nullify their speed and try to control the game then we had a chance and that’s kind of what happened for 70-odd minutes of the game,” Howard said. “Our defense did very, very well. That last 10 minutes we looked like we had heavy legs. I think the defense was superb today. Limit them to two or three chances. You can’t expect more than that. I wish we’d taken a couple of opportunities, a couple of breakaways here and there and that’s really been the story of our season. We’ve been relying on being strong defensively and getting one or two little opportunities. We had that today and I thought it was going to be enough but it wasn’t quite.”