WILTON — One of the more unenviable tasks for sportswriters is interviewing players and coaches after a shared championship. Players and coaches often don’t know how to react. They didn’t win but didn’t lose. They get a trophy but they don’t get to celebrate. And from our standpoint, they usually don’t know what to say.
That was not the case tonight at the FCIAC Central Region final at Kristine Lilly Field, after the Wilton and Brien McMahon boys soccer teams found themselves in the same place they were 100 minutes earlier: in a scoreless tie.
The mood on each side of the field was decidedly different. While the players for top-seeded Wilton were hanging their heads with blank looks, the Senators were more joyous, posing for a team photo in front of the north goal.
“They feel like their co-champions is losing and I said you guys have to be excited, you were playing the No. 1 team on their turf,” McMahon coach Rodrigo Guzman said. “We came out of nowhere in the preseason, worked hard through the whole season, being stopped for 14 days. Beating Staples and then being a co-champion with Wilton, it’s not easy.”
The Senators last won a league title in 1986, a year after their coach graduated from the school. Because of a Covid outbreak at McMahon the players were forced to quarantine for two weeks and did not play for three weeks prior to Wednesday’s 1-0 semifinal won over Staples. Both of their scheduled games again Wilton were among the five that got canceled.
“It means a lot to the players,” McMahon senior Erwin Reyes said. “We have a lot of dedicated players. We’ve been working for this for four years. The last championship we have was 34 years ago so it means a lot to this program. This is a good feeling, especially after coming back, beating Staples. It was a rough game. Wilton is an amazing team. Our team was just happy to be out here again.”
After going from five wins to the Class L final last year, the Warriors recalibrated their goal for this season to winning every game. They didn’t lose any, finishing 6-0-4 in by far the most difficult of the FCIAC’s three divisions. They are the league’s only unbeaten team.
The Warriors certainly didn’t look overly pleased by the outcome tonight in a game that was evenly played but in which they had the better of the few scoring chances.
“We worked really hard this season,” said Wilton’s Owen Lillis, one of the team’s many senior starters. “Playing at home tonight would have been the perfect ending. I do feel like we dominated a majority of the game. It just came down to little things. We’re still co-champions so nothing to complain about.”
The best opportunity for a goal on the night came in the 45th minute, when the Warriors’ Jake Lash delivered a ball in the box from the left side. Nathan Bennett got a clean one-touch but put his shot over the crossbar.
“The ball just sat in front of the goal various times and it is what it is,” Wilton coach Edwin Carvajal said. “They defended well. It hurts but it speaks volumes of the expectations the boys have for themselves to perform at a certain level. As you can see on their faces they don’t want to accept a co-champion. I think at the end of the day they would have battled for a singular champion.”
Everyone would have preferred a penalty-kick shootout as opposed to the shared titles that both the FCIAC and CIAC use in championship games. That also would have left one of these sides a loser, which would have really altered the postgame mood.
It was interesting taking the Warriors’ temperature at the end of the match; two years ago a bite out of a title would have been savored.
“The last two years we’ve really turned this program around,” Lillis said. “Playing in a state final last year and conference champions this year, I couldn’t be prouder. We’re just really blessed to be here.”
As with the outcome, that sentiment was also shared by the Senators.
“Wilton is a special team because they know how to move the ball. It’s not just kick and run,” said Guzman, whose son Leonardo is one of his players. “These guys will live the legend and the dream. A banner will be up there for the rest of their lives.”