Sean Colley can remember the time when the Danbury boys soccer program was a perennial state power. He was a student at the school when it won back to back state titles in 1997-98 — Colley’s cousin, Jason Weinheimer, scored the game-winner in the first, against Guilford.
“I loved soccer and played in the youth leagues but when I got to the high school it was loaded with talent,” Colley recalled. “I was a baseball player.”
Now Colley is a dean at the school and in his eighth year as the Hatters’ soccer coach. And the program, which played in seven state and six league finals between 1987-98, has not added to the school’s trophy case since.
It remains to be seen whether that will change this season, but the buzz that greeted Danbury when practice started in August has carried over following a 4-0-1 start.
“Obviously this is the first time in my eight years here that people were talking about us before the season started,” Colley said. “It’s a little different going from the underdog to people talking about us, but the kids have responded to it.”
That was most evident over the past four days. The Hatters displayed their talent on Saturday with a 2-1 win over defending league champion Greenwich. On Tuesday, they showed they also have the mental maturity to handle their elevated status by following with a 2-0 shutout of St. Joseph.
“Playing St. Joseph, they are a very smart team and not easy to break down,” Colley said. “It was a great win and a great win coming off of Greenwich.”
Danbury has seven starters back from a year ago. Forward Esteban Vazquez is leading the team with five goals, while midfielder/forward Edison Matute has done an excellent job creating and finishing, with two goals and three assists. Goalkeeper Ian Shannon, a junior and three-year starter, has spearheaded a defensive unit that has allowed just three goals.
Danbury’s lone non-win was a 1-1 draw with Staples, another league favorite.
“We have four games in seven days and all of them matter, it doesn’t matter who we are playing against,” Colley said.
Danbury has qualified for the FCIAC Tournament just once during Colley’s tenure, in 2012. On two other occasions, it lost out on tiebreakers for the final seed.
Right now the question isn’t whether the Hatters will be playing for the conference title, but can they continue to provide the answers that will lead to the first addition to the trophy case in 16 years.
One For The Books At Staples
Dan Woog thought he had run out of “firsts” at Staples. He has been associated with the program for 44 years — as a former player, assistant and currently the head coach. Woog once even covered the team for the Westport News.
Woog, the de facto team historian, got another one of those “firsts” on Monday night — the first time the Wreckers overcame a three-goal deficit.
In one of the wilder games in recent memory, between two respected programs, Staples fell behind Ridgefield, 3-0, in the first 23 minutes, then rallied furiously to come away with a 4-3 victory.
“In all my years at Staples I’ve never seen anything like it,” Woog said. “Nothing like this.”
All the more remarkable is the Wreckers (3-1-1) went ahead in the same blur they fell behind.
The Tigers’ goals came in a span of 10 minutes. Staples’ came in 30. Andrew Puchala, who missed the start of the season with an injury, scored a hat trick, including the game-winner off a set piece.
His first goal, before halftime, ignited the comeback.
“For 20 minutes there Ridgefield just hammered us,” Woog said. “The atmosphere up there at Tiger Hollow is great for Ridgefield and they really take advantage of it.”
During halftime, Tom Henske, the Wreckers’ goalkeeper coach, ripped into the players.
“He lit into them for not standing up for themselves,” Woog said. “My thing was they got three goals in 20 minutes, we could get three back plus one and win it. It was good cop-bad cop. I was the good cop. We could come back and write a page in our history book.”
Staples did just that.
“I told them after this is a lesson they will carry with them always,” Woog said. “Not just on the soccer field, but whenever they have a problem they can say, hey, I can figure this out.”
The season has reached the one-third mark, and right now the overall storyline is a league of haves and have-nots, with a lot of balance among the haves.
Heading into Tuesday’s games, there were eight teams with either zero or one loss, and nine teams with zero or one win.
The landscape will change as the teams up top start playing one another, but right now there is certainly no prohibitive favorite and the playoffs could be wide open, with not a lot of difference between the seeds.
Academy soccer sadly has taken a lot of the best players out of the league. That has served as a great equalizer.