RIDGEFIELD — A game after successfully handling being scored on for the first time this season, the Ridgefield girls soccer team tonight was confronted with their first experience at playing from behind.
In a rematch of last year’s FCIAC championship game, the Tigers responded to New Canaan goals and forged a 2-2 tie. Faith Arnold scored in the 71st minute for the final equalizer.
“Obviously it is not very often we’ve been behind, especially here at home, so it’s a great test of character to come from a goal behind and show we can compete with good teams from a goal down,” said Ridgefield coach Iain Golding, whose team, the defending league and state champion, has not lost at Tiger Hollow in four years.
Both teams came into the game with 8-0 records, joining Staples and St. Joseph unbeaten and atop the standings at the midway point of the season. The Tigers had not conceded a goal until Friday, when Darien, trailing by two scores, converted a penalty kick. Ridgefield won, 2-1.
The first half was played in a downpour, negating both sides’ technical skills. The Rams handled the elements better and took a 1-0 lead on Emma Schuh’s goal from the right side in the 6th minute.
“The first goal of the game is always important,” Rams coach Rich Hickson said. “Takes a little bit of pressure off and makes you feel a little bit more comfortable.”
New Canaan, which started just four seniors and is back in its old position as an elite team, did a better job at firing shots and hoping for fortuitous bounces or the chance to score off of rebounds.
“Obviously it was tough for both teams,” Golding said. “The rain was really bad. I was just disappointed with the tone and the intensity that we came out with. I felt like we gave New Canaan too much space, far too much time on the ball and we weren’t playing our game and letting them play theirs. In the second half we figured things out a little bit better and we took more control of the game.”
After the break the Tigers quickly tied the game, with Arnold in the role of catalyst. Her beautiful centering ball was driven home by Megan Klosowski.
Moments later Ridgefield lost one of its best players. Center back Carolyn Donovan was forced from the game after getting struck in the face.
There is no telling whether Donovan would have done anything with a ball put in front by New Canaan in the 62nd minute, but there was no stopping a perfect shot by sophomore Dillyn Patten high into the net.
“It was a great finish, right in the top corner,” Hickson said. “She’s played well so far this season.”
Ridgefield played a much better second half, moving the ball and resetting at midfield for repeated attacks.
Arnold finally broke through on a great individual play, twice beating defenders off the dribble before skidding a hard shot into the net.
“I was just aiming to the right back corner but it was kind of like more middle,” Arnold said. “I was just trying to get her moving so I could get some space and get a shot off. Like Iain was telling us just keep taking shots because it’s wet and you don’t know what’s going to happen. After it stopped raining we could play more the way we can play. Play on the ground more. In the first half it was more kickball.”
Both coaches agreed one point for their team was a deserved outcome.
“Lovely goal but it was one of the things we expressed at halftime, to shoot more often, test the goalkeeper, let the ball bounce with the speed of the ball and everything,” Golding said, referring to Arnold’s score. “I’m still slightly disappointed with the shots we created but in the end it was probably a fair result.”
“You take the lead you want to keep it, but they pressured well and created chances and it was a good strike so you have to hold your hands up there and say great individual play,” Hickson said, referring to the final goal. “Frustrating yes.”
This was the first meeting between the top four teams in the standings, which all have backloaded schedules. That will make for a great race in the final weeks. New Canaan returns home Friday to play St. Joseph.
“On the balance of play, fair result,” Hickson said. “It was nice to come in and not get beaten going into St. Joe’s.”