NORWALK — After reaching the FCIAC championship game the last three years under former coach Sebe Gangemi, who passed away last May, the question entering the boys soccer season was clear: Could Trumbull continue its high level of success under long-time assistant Sil Vitiello?
If the Eagles’ 12-2-4 record coming in wasn’t enough to answer that question then tonight’s 1-0 victory over Fairfield Warde in the title game should have taken care of it.
“It means everything to have done this for Sebe,” Vitiello said of the Eagles’ third FCIAC championship in four years (they were co-champs in 2016). “He’s been our 12th man this season. I knew we were talented, that we could be successful and we did it.”
Tiago Frazao’s goal in the 12th minute proved to be the winner as No. 2 seed Trumbull handed Warde (15-1-3), the top seed, its first loss.
Vitiello took over this fall after Gangemi passed away last spring following a long illness and, needless to say, there was some time under the microscope for the rookie head coach.
“There was pressure of course, but our experience helped,” said Vitiello, referring to the Eagles’ 10 senior starters. “I’m just happy we kept it going. He loved this team so much.”
And vice versa.
“We dedicated the season to Sebe,” tonight’s MVP, Justin Horvath, said. “(Vitiello) did a phenomenal job as an assistant over the years so nothing really changed. But we were determined to bring home the hardware for Sebe.”
“We’re always hungry but there was a little extra this year,” added Frazao. “We had extra momentum tonight and that was because of Sebe.”
That momentum was apparent from the start and culminated in Frazao’s goal. Thanks to a solid defensive effort led by Carrigan Cullinan and goalkeeper Nick Grassi (six saves, most of which were of the difficult variety), the Eagles were able to hang on.
“Trumbull is actually a mirror image of us,” Warde coach Justin Ottavio said. The Mustangs were looking to win their first league title since Fairfield split into two high schools. “They’re a great program and it was a very good game. The ball just didn’t bounce in our favor. It happens.”
Frazao and Horvath teamed up nicely for the only goal. Horvath led Frazao, who had a goal and an assist in Trumbull’s 4-1 semifinal victory over Staples, with a perfect pass just past midfield.
Then, after it looked like Frazao was going to return the ball back to Horvath on a give-and-go, Frazao surprised Warde goalkeeper Andrew Jones (three saves) and decided to shoot instead of pass. His boot found the right corner of the goal from 15 yards out. giving the Eagles the early lead.
“I kept (the ball) as soon as I saw (the Warde defender and goalie) lean over as if they expected me to pass, and I took the shot,” Frazao said. “We wanted to get up early against a great team like Warde.”
Warde did get three good shots in the first half but Grassi turned them aside, keeping the Trumbull lead intact.
The Mustangs kept the pressure on Grassi in the second half but just missed twice. In the 50th minute Danny Villalba blasted a shot from 30 yards out that went just over the crossbar, and six minutes later Devin Grenier appeared poised to tie the game. But his boot, that looked headed for the right corner of the goal, was stopped when Grassi made a sensational save by just getting a hand on the ball about a foot from the goal line.
The frustration built further for the Mustangs with 12:47 remaining. Warde’s Cole Jennings took a cross in front of the Trumbull goal and tapped it past a helpless Grassi for an apparent game-tying goal. But the referee ruled Jennings was offside on the play and the score stayed 1-0.
“There were four refs and they were in position so I didn’t argue,” Ottavio said.
It was apparent that both sides were playing more defensive-minded soccer after their earlier meeting had resulted in four goals. The teams tied 2-2 at Trumbull on Oct. 15, and neither squad had lost since, with Warde taking a seven-game winning streak into tonight while the Eagles were riding a six-game win streak.
The Eagles dropped into an even more defensive mode in the final 15 minutes trying to protect the one-goal lead. And Grasso made sure it worked.
“Those last 10 minutes felt like 100 years,” Vitiello said.
“Their goalie did a great job,” Ottavio added. “As I said, the ball just didn’t bounce our way.”
When the final horn sounded, the Eagles ignored the horrid weather and celebrated, not just for the moment . . . but also for the years gone by.
“Four straight (trips to the final) is special,” Vitiello said. “I’m thrilled but Sebe pushed us to this.”