FAIRFIELD — There were 10 seconds left in tonight’s opening FCIAC boys soccer semifinal and Fairfield Warde’s Eric Jara was still marking Wilton’s Michael Zizzadoro. Never mind that the Mustangs were throwing the ball in near midfield with the lead.
“I have to keep going to the end,” Jara said.
The sophomore, assigned the most difficult task of the evening, could have been talking about the entire Mustangs defense after they grinded out a 1-0 win in a game that was expected to be much more free-wheeling, like their 3-3 regular-season meeting.
“There’s just so many levels to our game,” Warde coach Justin Ottavio said. “We can attack, we can defend, we can sit in and it all falls on them. Mentally their soccer IQ has been a sight to behold.”
The Mustangs helped set up a battle of new and old FCIAC soccer money in Thursday’s championship game. Playing in the final for the first time since their only appearance nine years ago, they will meet Trumbull, a 4-1 winner over Staples in the nightcap to earn its fourth straight trip.
It should be a fabulous matchup between the top seeds and league’s hottest teams. The Eagles (12-2-4) overcame an early deficit for their sixth straight win, getting scores — several highlight worthy — from four different players.
“I mentioned at practice that acting and playing like we’ve been here before will make a difference for us,” said Trumbull coach Sil Vitiello. “Hopefully it will carry into Thursday. It’s their first final in a while and our fourth in a row. I’m not sure how you measure that.”
Warde (15-0-3) got the lone goal against Wilton (9-3-6) in the 13th minute. Danny Villalba capitalized on the rebound following a corner kick.
The Mustangs went into a defensive posture, at times dropping an extra player or two back, leading to a game where there were few prime scoring chances.
“We sat back and we were able to keep them out of our box and I thought that was pretty good for us,” Jara said.
Ottavio, after learning of the draw, opted to put Jara on Zizzadoro, one of the league’s most dazzling strikers.
Asked the reason for his choice, Ottavio sounded like a contemporary sports parent hyping his son.
“Jara since probably the middle of the season has been talent hunting,” Ottavio said. “He’s done an excellent job, he’s made sacrifices to do it, he’s embraced the role, he’s been very disciplined and he’s been our defending juggernaut. He reads the game really well. He has a good frame, good size, good speed. He never becomes discombobulated. He’s always focused and he’s got a great poker face. He’s like Velcro. He will stick to you.”
Zizzadoro had one strong shot that went right at the keeper, but to be fair once the Mustangs took the lead they were not going to try and win a track meet.
“I tried to stay square to him, not let him get space and not let him turn to our goal,” Jara said.
The Warde defense will face a similar challenge in the final. The Eagles fell behind in the eighth minute, when Benny Feuer finished a Patricio Perez Elorza corner kick to give the sixth-seeded Wreckers (9-5-4) a quick lead.
Trumbull equalized in the 23rd minute off a beautiful set-piece shot by Justin Horvath.
“We never back down,” Horvath said. “This whole season, whenever we got down a goal we always fought back and that’s exactly what we did. After I scored we were on a rampage. We just kept scoring and scoring. There’s really nothing else to say.”
Cameron Holmes scored what proved to be the winning goal in the 30th minute, tirelessly chasing down a ball after a scramble.
Matt Bagley took a touch from Tiago Frazao and rocketed a SportsCenter Top 10-worthy goal. Frazao used a finesse touch where a hard drive would have been saved for the Eagles’ final goal.
“It all started from the back,” Horvath said. “We build up from the back. The midfield had an awesome game and the offense, we just buried the chances we had. We had a couple of missed opportunities but we didn’t hang our heads down. We just kept fighting and fighting.”
The Eagles were coming off a loss and two ties before facing Danbury at home two weeks ago, a day after a dedication ceremony for Sebe Gangemi, the beloved coach who passed away during the offseason.
“We won, 1-0, and I thought it was the most complete game we had played,” Vitiello said. “I said I hope we look back and say this is when we really started our ascent. We have one more (league) game to play. Some of it is experience and some of it has been building to this point.”