DARIEN — A friendly word of advice to FCIAC boys soccer coaches, who take part in the league’s only sport that holds its own preseason poll: throw Darien High School a few votes next fall.
For the second straight year the Blue Wave were nowhere to be found in the rankings. Last season was understandable, until they reached the semifinals of both the league and state tournaments and were overlooked again this fall.
Jon Bradley and his players have not forgotten.
“Since the beginning of the season we’ve been playing with a chip on our shoulder to prove a point,” said Bradley, moments after the surging Blue Wave had finished one of their best efforts of the season, a 3-0 win over struggling Greenwich. “We’ve accomplished a hell of a lot so far. I told them we are three wins away from playing for a championship.”
At 9-1-5, the Blue Wave have the fewest losses in the league, are riding a 13-game unbeaten streak and have a chance to be the top seed in the FCIAC Tournament, which begins next Thursday. They have conceded just eight goals during the run and have suddenly found a finishing touch, scoring three goals in each of their last four games.
“I think it is a combination of a lot of things,” Darien senior Andrew Mathew said of the reasons his team has become a viable contender for its first league title in the sport. “We’ve been playing really well, we work really well together, our defense is tight and we’re starting to score goals.”
That is a pretty dangerous combination of attributes. There are nine teams in the chase for eight playoff sports, and Darien is currently 3-1-4 against them, with the regular-season finale against Trumbull still awaiting. That’s a pretty good argument for the expectation we could be looking at a lot of shootouts in the postseason, considering the eighth seed is going to be a side capable of winning three games in six days.
Greenwich, with little size, has had trouble defending set pieces, and the Blue Wave’s first two goals were off of corner kicks in the 33rd and 35th minutes, with Tore Eriksen converting the first after a ball was headed out toward him, and Sam Pfrommer making it 2-0 by winning a ball in the air. Sean Gallagher started both plays. Hunter Kooyman scored the final goal, in the 46th minute.
“Set pieces are always going to be a problem for us,” Greenwich coach Kurt Putnam said. “Those corners were taken well and deep.”
Putnam has other issues. His team is beat up with injuries, and might have suffered its biggest one when top scorer Nick Bartels was taken down in the first half and did not return. A prolonged loss of the league’s top player might be too big a burden for the Cardinals.
After a 7-1-4 start, Greenwich has a tie and two losses in the last three games. Putnam could identify the problem but sounded like he is still evaluating the best way to solve it.
“It is hard to tell where the wheels have come off but I think they have,” Putnam said. “We’ve not put a great game together the whole year. We’ve played some incredible halves of really great soccer.”
According to Putnam, the Cardinals led in four of their five draws.
“We’re struggling to put teams away,” Putnam said.
It is obvious teams are more weary at this point than in past years, in part due to the parity and in part due to strengths of schedules now that every team must play each other once.
Staples had lost two straight games — albeit by one goal to Warde and Wilton, which started Wednesday with the best and third-best records, respectively — before rebounding with a resounding win over Trinity Catholic. Wilton, in contrast, was riding a four-game winning streak prior to a game with Westhill.
What does it all mean? Nothing. The slates get cleaned next Thursday, and as long as you are holding one of the eight lottery tickets, nothing else matters. Bradley and Putnam admitted before the game that there was not one team they wanted to either avoid or hoped to draw. Putnam said he didn’t even consider home field a big advantage.
Where does an edge come from?
“I think a lot of teams look at our record and they think we’re packing it in, in the back and they don’t have a lot of respect for us,” Mathew said.
Added Bradley, “We need to get respect from other coaches in the league to get respect outside of it.”
To be fair, there isn’t a coach in the league that does not believe the Blue Wave have the parts to win that elusive confidence. If the Darien coaches and players don’t believe that, well, this may be the year you look for that edge anywhere you can find it.”