FAIRFIELD — After suffering their first loss of the year in the FCIAC championship game, the members of the Fairfield Warde boys soccer team had no option but to regroup. Quickly.
The state tournament was four days away, and the preseason goal of a title had become more realistic throughout the fall.
“We were looking for bigger things and it was really disappointing but we just had to get it together and look to go forward,” said Danny Villalba, one of the Mustangs’ captains.
Warde has been moving in the desired direction, coming away with a gritty 2-1 win today at home over Norwalk in the Class LL second round. Villalba scored what proved to be the winning goal, sending the Mustangs to the quarterfinal round.
“We keep on dealing with adversity quite well,” Warde coach Justin Ottavio said. “McMahon was a challenge, Norwalk is a challenge. We are up for the challenge. We will do whatever we can to get a win.”
Today that meant weathering late pressure by the No. 18 Bears (8-5-6), who regrouped after a slow start.
It was a banner day for the FCIAC, which holds half of the remaining spots. Staples stunned top-seeded Glastonbury and Greenwich got past third-seeded East Hartford. Trumbull routed Shelton, 6-1. Wilton advanced in Class L.
And if the Bears had drawn a different opponent, maybe the league would have had a fifth entrant in the round of eight. But they could not overcome a slow start today that contributed to the Mustangs’ first goal.
“I was definitely disappointed with how we came out,” Norwalk coach Chris Laughton said. “I thought we were focused and had a good warmup. They just came out much harder than we did and asserted themselves and controlled the game from the start. Just some defensive errors that led to the goals. I’m proud of how we fought back. We talked about playing with pride in the second half and I thought we definitely did that. I’m proud of that effort but you have to play 80 minutes when you get to the state tournament.”
The second-seeded Mustangs (15-1-3) dominated the first 20 minutes, keeping the ball in Norwalk’s end. When the Bears were slow to take control of a ball in their box, Jordan Klicin charged in and got a touch to give the Mustangs a 1-0 lead.
“His goal really motivated us and made us work even hard than we were at the beginning,” Villalba said.
Villalba doubled the advantage in the 30th minute after a run down the left side of about 40 yards. He got behind a defender, moved slightly inside and hit a shot that went off the far post and caromed in.
“Honestly I got lucky,” Villalba said. “It went right through a defender’s leg and he tripped and it just gave me open space to score. I try to place it as much as I can and I tried to go to the right and luckily it went post-in.”
The Bears picked up the tempo and started finding paths in the Warde defense. That was rewarded in the 64th minute when Brandon Rodriguez converted a nifty feed from Jhonny Santamaria to make it 2-1.
Norwalk had some late chances but the Mustangs held on.
“Norwalk is a very talented team, Ottavio said. “Their top four or five guys are very technical, they’re crafty, they’re dynamic, they run off the ball extremely well and they have good size. They are hard to defend against.”
The Norwalk players were disconsolate after the match. Laughton went around and talked to each of them during the cool down.
“It’s a tight-knit group,” Laughton said. “These guys have been friends for a very long time. I think we all believed we could have continued to advance in the tournament but Warde’s a great team. You have to give them credit. They’re well-coached and have some really great players. All in all they played for 80 minutes.”