WESTPORT — What has become the FCIAC’s best current girls soccer rivalry was renewed today, as Staples and Ridgefield met on a rainy day that inhibited the skill level of both sides.
The finalists in the last two Class LL finals, there was little separation in a physical game. Both teams played an open style but created few prime chances. Both goalkeepers braved the elements and did not allow a slippery ball to elude them.
And, ultimately, both defenses were outstanding in what ended as a 0-0 draw. Fittingly, both teams remained unbeaten.
“It was a very physical game,” Ridgefield coach Iain Golding said. “Both teams were battling and competing. Both teams tried to possess the ball and move the ball through the middle and play the forwards. I thought in the first half we were the better team and had the better chances and then in the second half Staples definitely had more of the ball. The end result was a very even result.”
Not surprisingly, both teams remained almost in lockstep in the standings. The Tigers improved to 9-0-2, one point ahead of the Wreckers (9-0-1), who have a game at hand. It was the sixth straight shutout for Staples, which has eight in all, one fewer than Ridgefield.
“Not a lot to separate us,” Staples coach Barry Beattie said. “In these conditions this could be a goalkeeper’s nightmare, but I thought both defenses and goalkeepers stood up really well today because while there weren’t any clear chances, both defenses were excellent.”
There are few secrets between the teams. The Tigers have won the last two state titles at the Wreckers’ expense. Golding and Beattie were roommates at the time of the 2017 game and remain close friends.
The elements impacted play, yet the teams did a remarkably effective job of stringing together passes.
“The rain was definitely a factor because there was a lot of sliding all over the field,” said Mia Gonzalez, the Wreckers’ multi-talented senior back. “When I went to go send long balls I was slipping a lot and wasn’t able to hit it as far as I could hit it.”
Despite recent postseason history, Staples is No. 1 in the current state poll, two spots ahead of Ridgefield. The Wreckers have a veteran lineup, with most starters back, and a stingy defense.
“They have some really, really fast forwards so for us it was key to stay tight on them so that we didn’t allow them to turn and take space on us,” Gonzalez said. “Then it’s really dangerous for us. As a defensive line that’s what we try to do, but as well as that we try to attack and play through balls and play short balls. But it was really tough.”
Ridgefield has a number of starters back but most are underclassmen. With Carolyn Donovan recovering from a concussion, the Tigers had just one senior today in their backfield.
Center back Charlotte Kemp is just a freshman, though it is hard to tell from her poised play.
“We expected it to be really hard and it was,” Kemp said of today’s game. “It was really physical. We were really focusing on our defense this week, especially with Carolyn being out. We really just wanted to pressure and cover so someone’s always behind if the first person misses it.”
All of the league’s top teams are playing each other over the final weeks. St. Joseph, which is also unbeaten, travels to Ridgefield on Friday and then hosts Staples on Monday. New Canaan and Wilton each have just one loss and are in position for high seeds in the conference tournament.
“When the top teams play, both teams play like that and no one gets injured it’s OK,” Beattie said after today’s game. “I’d say it was a good performance by both teams. Both teams battled hard and both teams probably leave the field a little disappointed. We had one good chance, they had one good chance. It was a good game and we can both be really happy with the performance. We’ll see them again for sure.”