FAIRFIELD — Knowing they would each be losing nine starters, it is doubtful that either Greenwich boys soccer coach Kurt Putnam or his counterpart at Trumbull, Sebby Gangemi, would have wagered much on a rematch 12 months later after meeting in last year’s FCIAC championship game.
Yet both sides are back in the final after wins tonight, with the chance to produce what their predecessors could not: a clear-cut champion.
After the Eagles earned their spot following a grinding 1-0 overtime win against Danbury in the first semifinal, Greenwich continued its solid overall play to produce a 2-0 victory over Norwalk.
“We’re working hard,” Greenwich coach Kurt Putnam said. “They’ve really stepped it up the last five or six games. I’m really happy. The work rate has been fantastic. I think if anything that maybe defines us as a team. Maybe more than most of the other teams in the conference. I think their work rate, when we’ve got the ball and when we’ve lost the ball, is probably better than anybody else’s. Trumbull is going to have to figure out a way to match us in those departments if they want to be in the game.”
Greenwich and Trumbull shared last year’s title.
The second-seeded Cardinals (13-4-1) played with a lead tonight after Martin Garcia scored in the 24th minute, and a tenacious defense limited Norwalk’s scoring opportunities.
Greenwich is 9-1-1 since a midseason mini-slump in which it lost two straight games for the first time in six years. This is the team’s fourth trip to the final in the last five seasons.
“Whereas last year maybe we were a little bit better, I don’t think last year’s team worked as hard as this team does,” Putnam said. “They’ve been absolutely fantastic to watch. We’re passing the ball around really well too. Creating a lot of chances. We kept a pretty good team really neutralized.”
Garcia struck as the Bears (10-6-2) tried to clear the ball away on a throw-in. It ended up on Garcia’s foot, and he drilled a hard shot into the net from 25 yards out.
The Cardinals got their insurance goal in the 50th minute, off a penalty kick. Norwalk goalkeeper Gianluca Trofa, who had entered the game moments earlier, made a diving save on Garcia, but Woojin Kwak hurried in to bury the rebound.
Greenwich’s back line took over the rest of the way.
Trumbull (12-4-2), the fifth seed, which played the Hatters (8-5-5) to a draw a week earlier, needed extra time and a fine individual effort from an unlikely source to advance.
Andrew Restrepo, who entered the game late as an injury replacement, took a pass on the left side from Panayiotis Xenakis. He beat a defender off the dribble and scored in the 89th minute.
“I cut in and then I just shot it,” Restrepo said. “I know I’m a very fast player and when I was on the bench I was seeing them play and I knew I could do it. When I had the chance I just capitalized.”
The pace started slow and picked up at the end of the first half, when the Hatters’ Felipe Alves was stopped by Trumbull goalkeeper Andrew Menjivar.
The Eagles put on a furious attack in the final minute of regulation, with Bryant Recker hitting the crossbar and an attempt off a corner kick going just wide.
“It was a scrappy game,” Gangemi said. “We took a while, we didn’t get many chances at the goal and then at the end we had a couple we should have put away. It was frustrating. We pushed it as much as possible. That was our game plan: keep pushing, keep pushing. We rely on our defense and they did a good job.”
Gangemi said of Restrepo, “It was a good sub. He hasn’t been playing much lately and we wanted to use his speed and tenacity up there. I need his intensity. He was fresh. He only played the last 10 minutes of the game but as you could see he made a difference.”
Gangemi was pleased a season that started with the customary hopes but perhaps more modest expectations had taken another positive turn.
“We’re back. We’re back,” Gangemi said. “Trumbull is back, that’s all I can tell you. Nobody gave us any respect and we earned it. We earned the respect today.”