TRUMBULL — It is hardly lonely at the top of the FCIAC girls soccer standings.
In a reprisal of a year ago, Staples, St. Joseph and Ridgefield are in the hunt for the regular-season title and top seed in the FCIAC Tournament. Determining which team is best remained a question mark, though the Wreckers ended up in the most enviable position after being outplayed in a 1-1 tie today at St. Joseph.
The match ended a five-day stretch in which the three schools played each other in a round-robin. After 240 minutes there were three draws and no movement in the positioning for the top three playoff spots.
The Cadets’ performance today, particularly in the second half, was the most impressive in the three games. They did a good job of using their forwards and midfielders to swarm and either force turnovers or compel the Wreckers to put the ball out of bounds and regroup.
“Today I thought we were the better team,” St. Joseph coach Jack Nogueira said. “I thought we created more opportunities than they did. I thought it was a bad, bad call in the first half. No question it was offsides. But we came back and we got one back. Our high-pressing game them a problem. They couldn’t deal with it.”
The play Nogueira was referring to took place in the 22nd minute. The Wreckers’ Lys Goldman played a ball to the right side that sent Katie Ialeggio in on a breakaway. Ialeggio, who 364 days ago scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over the Cadets that gave Staples the regular-season title, deposited a shot into the far left corner for an early lead.
The play came at a cost: Ialeggio pulled up with a hamstring injury and did not return.
The score came not long after the Cadets’ Andriana Cabral was robbed by Staples goalkeeper Marisa Shorrock, who deflected a bullet over the crossbar.
Staples (11-0-2) did a better job mounting attacks over the first 25 minutes before the Cadets (10-0-3) took over possession time.
St. Joseph was the sharper team after halftime. Caroline Sheehan struck the crossbar with a solid shot in the 41st minute. Five minutes later Cabral was taken down in the box and Fried scored to the right side on the subsequent penalty kick to equalize.
“We’ve been working on PKs in practice and they are kind of like 70 percent right now so I wasn’t at my highest,” Fried said. “I stepped up to the line and the keeper was leaning toward the side that I usually go to. I just had to lock it in.”
Fried continued to test the Staples defense and in the 76th minute got a step behind with the ball, only to have Sharrock make another spectacular play.
Staples coach Barry Beattie drew two late yellow cards and will have to sit out the team’s next game, on Wednesday against Westhill. Beattie, who said he never received a red card as a player, acknowledged the second card was warranted but questioned the first.
Now the attention turns to the final week of the regular season and the playoff race. Staples has the inside track on the top seed, but its final two games are against New Canaan and Wilton, which are right behind the top three seeds and could disrupt the current landscape.
“I don’t think much separates the top three, honestly,” Beattie said. “New Canaan is good, Wilton is having a good season. The top five are good. Very fine margins.”
Nogueira, never shy about sharing his view, said if form holds today’s game should be a preview of the league final.
“I think the two best teams were on the field today,” Nogueira said. “I just think the weapons that (Staples) has, we have, and no disrespect to Ridgefield. He does a tremendous job with what he has. I think we just have a little bit more. That doesn’t mean on any certain day that Ridgefield can’t beat us.”
Given the course of today’s game, each side had different views of the earned point. Beattie was happy to head home with an asset.
“I’m disappointed with our performance,” Beattie said. “I don’t know what it was. Maybe because it was a Monday game or whatever. The (Cadets) were just a little bit more up for the fight today. I’ll take the draw, honestly.”
Fried felt today’s game was evidence of a St. Joseph team, even at this late point, still evolving.
“I think we played really, really hard today and, yeah, a tie isn’t a win,” Fried said. “You always want to win. I’m really proud of us today with our work rate. I think we’re going to eventually finish our chances and we just have to keep playing hard and keep getting those chances because we still have time. We’re going to get better.”