Boys Soccer

Staples Is Perfect On Penalty Kicks To Defeat Darien In Class LL First Round

Darien’s Cole Branca collides with Staples goalkeeper Ry Cohen as he makes a save. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

WESTPORT — As the Staples boys soccer team prepared for penalty kicks to settle today’s first round Class LL tournament game against Darien, there was no sense of lingering memories from a week ago.

Confronted with the tiebreaking method against Trumbull in the FCIAC semifinals, the Wreckers had three successive shots saved. The Eagles advanced and went on to win the conference title.

Staples was now again looking at penalty kicks, only its season was on the line.

“I don’t think there was any kind of talk about it,” Staples coach Dan Woog said. “It was certainly in kids’ minds; we felt we did not take good PKs against Trumbull. We didn’t hit them with confidence.”

Darien’s Cole Branca and Staples’ Lefty Pendarakis battle for possession. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Seven days later, the Wreckers were perfect, converting all five of their attempts. The Blue Wave were good on their first four shots, but the last was not put on goal. Staples advanced 1-1 (5-4 PKS) and will face seventh-seeded Cheshire on the road Thursday.

“I hate to win by PKs and I hate even worse to lose by them,” Woog said. “It’s a tough way to go, you feel bad. It’s a team game and it comes down to individuals. So I’m focusing on the fact that we really, really had a great comeback, put pressure on them, forced them to their limits and that’s what I’m pleased about. Happy with the PKs, really pleased with our response.”

Darien (7-5-5) finished with the ninth-best record in the FCIAC and missed out on a playoff spot. The Blue Wave’s performance today was further evidence how deep into the league the talent runs. They controlled the first 20 minutes, creating chances that went unfinished.

Staples’ Matt Tanzer and Darien’s Connor Olson go into the air to try and win a ball. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

“It’s a tribute to the FCIAC and the strength of our conference and it kills us when those brackets come out,” Woog said of having to play an opponent again in the state tournament. “But if you want to be the best you’ve got to beat the best, and the best often runs through the FCIAC.”

The Blue Wave, seeded 23rd, went ahead in the 42nd minute on a beautiful twisting shot by Charlie Sears.


“You only had to watch his game today to realize the lad can play,” Darien coach Jon Bradley said. “I thought it was a great finish with composure.”

The Wreckers’ Gabriel Baltierra tries to settle a ball. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

The 10th-seeded Wreckers (12-3-4) initially seemed panicked by the deficit, but quickly settled down and pressed the attack. They were rewarded in the 62nd minute, on a long-ball delivery from Vaughan Sealey. It was settled by Mauricio Inglada, who deftly touched it into the net as Darien goalkeeper Christian Pllumbi came out to make a play.

“Just a very, very poised finish,” Woog said.

The Wreckers had two chances to take the lead. Austin Sholes set up Sealey, who freed himself off the dribble but was denied by Pllumbi, who made an even better save in overtime on Patricio Perez Elorza.

The Wreckers’ Robert Diorio pushes the ball up the sideline. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

“It was a good game I thought,” Bradley said. “The end of the first half and the end of the second half they had the better of it. You can see especially the end of the second half where they wore us down a little bit. Overtime it was two teams being tired and PKs, they are what they are. Someone’s going to win, someone’s going to lose. I’m proud of the way they played. I don’t think either team could have given any more today. I thought it was a good game and good luck to Staples in the next game.”

The Wreckers at least get a chance to face an unfamiliar opponent next.

“Darien’s a quality team,” Woog said. “Well-coached. We have a great rivalry with them, we love playing against them. Jon is a fantastic guy, and they bring out the best in us and hopefully vice versa.”

Matt Freeman sends a ball upfield for the Blue Wave. (Photo: Mark Conrad)