NAUGATUCK — The Greenwich boys soccer team has peaked during the final two weeks of the season, and tonight somewhat inexplicably accomplished a feat achieved by just three of its predecessors, advancing to the state championship game.
With no foreshadowing what would come at the start of the Class LL Tournament, the Cardinals’ special play continued tonight as they built a 3-0 lead and held on in the final seconds for a 3-2 win.
“I wouldn’t have expected that with this group,” Cardinals coach Kurt Putnam admitted with a smile as he watched his players celebrate. “I told you at the beginning of the season I didn’t know what to expect. I graduated a whole program.”
The Cardinals (14-5-2), who last reached the title game in 1978 and won their only title in 1961, will meet Hall in Saturday’s final. Hall defeated Trumbull in tonight’s other semifinal, 5-2.
Greenwich got goals from Joao Pedro Lima, Farid Ghaliya and Isaac Dumeny, then looked to its defense, particularly goalkeeper Paddy Colligan, who was spectacular.
“We just worked really, really hard,” Putnam said. “You could see the pressure that these boys put on the other team to make them play a disruptive game and then counterattack. And that doesn’t come without 11 guys working really hard behind the ball and in front of the ball. On another day we might have scored some more goals.”
The season started as a rollercoaster ride for the Cardinals, who graduated 28 seniors. They started 6-0 before going 0-2-2 over the next four games, then finished strong. But they lost to Wilton in the first round of the FCIAC Tournament in the 4-5 game.
“We went out a bit premature in the FCIAC, honestly,” Putnam said. “Losing to Wilton the way we did was really hard to take. We had the game under control and we literally just gave it up with two minutes and change left. The time we had off was just to go back and recognize the mistakes that we made and try to fix them. We weren’t thinking. We were playing too much with emotion and not enough with the head.”
Ironically, the Warriors gave the FCIAC two state finalists after winning their Class L semifinal tonight against Wethersfield on penalty kicks.
The pivotal sequence for Greenwich tonight came in a two-minute span.
After the Cardinals withstood early pressure from seventh-seeded Farmington (14-4-2), they took a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute when Lima settled and turned on a ball, putting it into the far corner.
Colligan and Farmington goalkeeper Tom Gibson took over from there until early in the second half.
Ghaliya scored with a quick shot in the 47th minute and then Dumeny in the 49th minute played a ball from Lima on the left and drove a bullet into the very top left corner of the net. Gibson got his hands on it but the ball was hit so hard he was not able to keep it out of the goal and the Cardinals had a 3-0 lead.
“The minute we lost that FCIAC quarterfinal we said we had one more trophy to fight for and we were going to do everything we could,” said Davi Pedreiro, one of the Cardinals’ few returning starters. “Every practice, every minute was hard work and commitment to this team. Even in the first (state) game against Conard we made sure we won our battles and that’s what got us here.”
Farmington was awarded a penalty kick in the 50th minute that Shrey Sharma converted to start the comeback. Sharma scored again on the rebound after a Colligan save in the 77th minute to get within a goal.
Farmington forced Colligan to make two saves to preserve the victory.
The Cardinals’ unsung hero was senior back Max Pisacreta, who was given the assignment of sticking with Sharma.
“They’re a real quality team. The small amount of research you could do on them was 10 and 11 were the heart and soul of this team,” said Putnam, referring to the uniform numbers, respectively, of David Coello and Sharma. “And you can tell why. (Sharma) was a fantastic player. What we did was try to disrupt them. Max came from left back to man-mark (Sharma) and he did a hell of a job. Who knows where this is going to take us.”
Right now on an unlikely express to the state final, an outcome that even Putnam and his players agreed could not have been anticipated.
“I was trying to think positive but no I couldn’t have imagined this,” Pedreiro said. “I never felt this way before.”