FAIRFIELD — The outcome for the boys soccer season opener at Fairfield Ludlowe Friday afternoon would not have been out of place 365 days ago. The Falcons, ragged at times, still found a way to patch together a 1-0 victory over Ridgefield.
And the Tigers, who finished a rare subpar 4-9-3 season with five one-goal losses, almost felt like this was a continuation of last year despite many new faces.
“We couldn’t get rid of our first-game jitters or whatever you want to call it,” Ridgefield coach Phil Bergen said. “I hope I’m wrong, but the worries about last season are there and we need something to build our confidence. We were hoping today would be that day.”
To be fair, the Tigers outside of the outcome did nothing to dispel the expectation that they could be the team that makes the biggest catapult up the standings from last year. They played well in stretches, but when the Falcons’ possession game is on, as it was for the final 20 minutes of the opening half, most opponents can look hapless.
“I was very happy with the first half of play,” Ludlowe coach Kevin O’Hara said. “We were moving the ball, the ideas were there, but we have to get the kinks out. There were a couple of balls mis-hit, but we started to get into a rhythm there and played well.”
Finishing was the Falcons’ thorniest issue as there were a couple of uncontested balls that were put high or wide. And on occasions when they were true, they were also unlucky, as in the 37th minute, when a bullet by Mason Jennings was neatly punched over the crossbar by Ridgefield goalkeeper Ryan Young.
Six minutes earlier, Ludlowe had some good fortune to score the game’s lone goal. After pressing the attack, Niklas Stahle hit a hard ball off a Ridgefield defender and into the net for an own-goal.
“I thought we could have had a couple more,” O’Hara said. “We let a couple slip away. That’s the kinks, that’s the excitement of the first game.”
Ludlowe is coming off an impressive run, going unbeaten in conference play en route to their first title. But going from sleeper to favorite is not without potholes.
“I think the kids are handling it pretty well,” O’Hara said. “Last year we kind of flew underneath the radar. This year we have a big target on our back. They have to be pumped up, like the way they were today.”
Though the Falcons were hit hard by graduation losses, they are a senior-laden team. Midfielder Tulio Almeida is back and had a good game. He said the players were aware of what was needed to combat their change in status.
“We have a lot more we have to work on,” Almeida said. “We have to keep playing hard, work as a team and finish it up. We took a couple of shots and couldn’t execute the goals. It has to be perfect, everyone working together, and we should be able to have a good season.”
Ludlowe was voted to finish second in a poll of preseason coaches. The team ahead of it, Greenwich, lost in the final a year ago and opened on Friday with a 2-2 draw against St. Joseph. Results like that, with what appears to be great parity up top, could be the norm this fall.
Where does Ridgefield fall into the mix? It is an interesting combination of almost all seniors and sophomores looking to prove themselves.
“This result looks good in the standings, 1-0, not bad against one of the top teams, if not the top team in the league,” Bergen said. “But the way we played was not impressive. We have a good group of players who will work hard, so I’m confident.”