FAIRFIELD — If the Staples boys soccer team had put together a 2016 highlight video, it no doubt would have been called “Fit To Be Tied.” Six of the Wreckers’ 16 regular season games ended in draws, forcing a scramble to qualify for the conference tournament.
Not much has changed so far this year. Two of the Wreckers’ first three games have been deadlocks, though today’s 3-3 outcome against Fairfield Warde was much more palatable. They overcome a 3-0 halftime deficit with complete dominance, and were unlucky not to come away with the win after a long shot in the final minutes hit the post.
“The first half was just a complete mental lapse and the second half we said there’s nothing the coaches can do for us, nothing anyone can do but our own mental attitude, and it’s 11 guys that went out there and said we are going to go at them with everything we have,” Staples midfielder Matt Engler said. “As you saw we pressed them, we played them and we were able to fight back.”
After Timmy Liles got Staples (1-0-2) on the board in the 42nd minute, Pato Perez Elorza scored the final two goals. He followed a block of a clearing attempt by Warde goalkeeper Cameron Millington and finished into an open net, then converted a pass from Engler in the 64th minute.
“If it can turn into a season-turning draw than we’ll be happy,” Staples coach Dan Woog said. “If we can take the lessons from this than that’s fine. If they go into another game and happen to be down they know they can come back. But we don’t want to be there.”
Both teams has chances to go ahead down the stretch. The Wreckers’ Nick Ambrose made a nice stop in the box to deny Warde’s Mario Morataya, then Millington stopped Liles from in close and had help when Sam Liles’ long floater hit off the post in the 78th minute.
Given the change in fortunes, the Mustangs had difficulty taking satisfaction in playing one of the league’s top teams evenly on the scoreboard.
“The first half was brilliant. It was a reflection of what we can do,” Warde coach Justin Ottavio said. “Then I think we had mental lapses. I think our mind shifted, we became slightly complacent. I think we were focused on other aspects of the game than holding our shape. That’s what in the end cost us on our side. I thought we lost the middle, weren’t as physical. It appeared they were slightly more fit and I thought we were really fit.”
It was a dramatic change from the first half, when Warde (0-1-1) was the crisper team, creating space and finding openings in the defense to attack.
Anthony Zarlenga scored for Warde in the 7th minute on a floating shot that was not handled by Staples goalkeeper Ry Cohen, who is now the starter after Teddy O’Kane suffered a broken wrist in practice yesterday that will sideline him for about six weeks.
The Mustangs, after several near-misses, got goals from Daniel Villalba and Mark Morataya to take what appeared a commanding lead.
“We were nervous with a new keeper, we were tentative. It was awful,” Woog said. “All the credit to them that it wasn’t 80 minutes of awful.”
Ottavio said many of the problems his players had possessing the ball in the second half were inflicted on them.
“Give Staples credit,” Ottavio said. “They fight tooth and nail. That’s what they’re all about and I respect them for that.”
The Wreckers have been able to wax philosophical on draws after enduing a year of them. They also know at some point they need to turn some of them into wins.
“We know we’re a good soccer team,” Engler said. “Half of soccer in my opinion is mental ability, and it’s great for our team to come back like that and show resilience, especially when we’re down 3-0. To get a point out of this is good. In soccer there’s six points, you can win three, you can lose three and we’re getting one. We lost two points this game in our mind. We didn’t win anything.”
“It was a wild game and what I said to the team at the end was welcome to the FCIAC,” Woog said. “Because this is the FCIAC every single game. It’s three points we won’t get but if we get three points two or three games down the line because of this, than that’s fine.”