GREENWICH — After getting off to a surprising 0-1-2 start in games where it appeared a prohibitive favorite, Greenwich boys soccer coach Kurt Putnam asked his players to perform a mental rewind, back a year ago.
The Cardinals were sitting at 4-3 and there were whispers about underachievement and failing to live up to expectations.
They went on to win their second straight FCIAC title.
Putnam reminded his players with four straight wins they could be in a superior position by the end of this month. In a grinding game that was more about effort than technical play, the Cardinals achieved that feat at the expense of a major rival, defeating Staples 2-0 this afternoon.
“Today you could see that,” Putnam said. “It was everywhere today, our intensity. Our marking, winning 50-50s. I think we probably won 70 percent and that dictates what goes on in the game. I think we had more of the ball and we did more with the ball when we had it, and to some degree I think we suppressed what Staples wanted to try and do.”
Greenwich dominated time of possession, especially in the first half, and while it did not lead to many good scoring chances, the pressure led to a pair of penalty kicks that were converted by Shoki Araki and Davi Pedreiro in the 18th and 24th minutes, respectively.
“We put ourselves in a lot of good positions but our final ball wasn’t really good enough,” Putnam said. “We didn’t get a very good shot off. We held onto the ball one touch too long. The combinations didn’t quite work. We kept putting the ball into places we knew we could hurt them and we got two penalties.”
It was a good start to their most difficult stretch in the schedule for the Cardinals, who play Stamford on Friday, then Norwalk and Trumbull, a rematch of the last two conference finals, next week.
“I think what it came down to was who worked harder,” Putnam said. “We stuck to our gameplan. A little more direct than what we normally do but we tried to put their back line under as much pressure.”
Staples coach Dan Woog said his players failed where Greenwich’s succeeded.
“We have a gameplan that we want to play and we didn’t play it today,” Woog said. “Greenwich did not allow us to execute our gameplan and when a team does that to us it’s tough. We got caught up in their style of play. You always want to dictate the play and we certainly didn’t do that today.”
It was the second loss in three games for the Wreckers (4-2-1).
“We did do better in the second half but we dug ourselves a hole and we didn’t do anything to get out of it,” Woog said.
Both players were minus key starters who are scheduled for imminent returns from injuries.
While the rivalry between the teams can occasionally get heated, Putnam offered praise for Staples and how it served as a template to build his program. Putnam recalled the Wreckers winning the FCIAC championship from 2008-10.
“They were the team you wanted to emulate back (then),” Putnam said. “That was the program. When you see what a program has achieved you want some of what they have. My target was always to try and get to a point we could be the Staples at some point. I’d like to think in the last five years we kind of got there.”
The Cardinals have won three of the last five titles.
“Them and Trumbull are the teams that bring the best out of us, and they brought the best out of us again today,” Putnam said. “Not so much maybe classic soccer but just sheer work rate, desire, determination. The will to want to win the game.”