By Dave Ruden
WESTPORT — There was an aura of curiosity in the air at Albie Loeffler Field on Wednesday afternoon, one that superseded a storyline of two perennial FCIAC contenders meeting in a pivotal early season match.
The Staples boys soccer team’s loss to Warren Harding on Monday had a man-bites-dog reverberation, though the Presidents are a much-improved side. As the Wreckers prepared to host Ridgefield, one wondered if the vaunted program, after heavy graduation losses, was not quite yet ready for prime time.
Those doubts were soon put to rest in a fast-paced, well-played game that saw Staples come away with a 2-2 draw, an appropriate outcome considering neither team was deserving of a loss.
“There were bits and pieces where we both could have won so it’s a fair result,” said Ridgefield coach Phil Bergen, who still had not won a game in Westport in 10 seasons. “We came in with the right attitude, we worked hard on keeping possession, which we really didn’t do today. There were a lot of panic balls so it was a little disappointing there. But our first real test of the season, all that being considered it’s a good result.”
The Tigers (2-0-1), who took a 1-0 lead in the 6th minute on Adam Findlay’s conversion off a corner kick, would have come away empty if not for a brilliant save in the 79th minute by goalkeeper Nicholas Steer, who rushed off his line and stopped the Wreckers’ Diego Alanis on a breakaway.
Steer and Alanis are former premier teammates.
“They got lucky and a ball poked through,” Steer said. “I didn’t want him to score on me. Our defense moved up the field and wasn’t really aware of the ball coming through. Only Diego and I read it, and I came out real quick to make sure I closed down the angle.”
Alanis was involved in what was the pivotal play, in the 38th minute. The Wreckers (2-1-1) were fortunate to only be down a goal when the Tigers’ Killian Clancy, in the 19th minute, broke free but drilled a shot over the crossbar.
Alanis positioned himself by the far post and finished off a corner kick by Joe Pravder that tied the scored at 1-1.
“I think that was the turning point,” Alanis said. “We finally started believing in ourselves and finally started playing and playing feet.”
The Wreckers were not performing poorly to that point, but there was a perceptible increase in their work rate and energy level, and they took a 2-1 lead in the 49th minute off a scramble that resulted in an own-goal.
Both teams traded turns attacking, and both defenses were up to the task until the 68th minute, when the Tigers equalized. Konstantinos Kouroupas delivered a ball that eluded the outstretched arms of Staples keeper Noah Schwaber, and Ryan Meegan was free to finish.
Steer then ensured the day would end deadlocked.
“We owe him everything,” Bergen said. “That would have been it, but we had our chances too.”
It is unwise to make grand pronouncements based on a small sample of results, and while Greenwich has been the most impressive squad in the first week, and Norwalk already has two losses, this seems to be one of those years where parity should provide greater interest.
Case in point: the Wreckers, whose perception changed in the course of 48 hours.
“They’re a real good team and our goal is to meet them again down the line, perhaps twice,” Woog said of Ridgefield. “They’re always tough, they’re well-coached, they’re organized and they’re always big. This was certainly our best effort of the season and they brought it out in us.”
STAPLES 2, RIDGEFIELD 2
Ridgefield 1 1—2
Staples 1 1—2
Goals: R—Adam Findlay, Ryan Meegan; S—Diego Alanis, own goal. Assists: R—Killian Clancy, Konstantinos Kouroupas; S—Joe Pravder. Goalie saves: R—Nicholas Steer 5; S—Noah Schwaeber 4. Shots: R—15; S—10. Records: Ridgefield 2-0-1; Staples 2-1-1