Unfinished business for Greenwich High boys soccer

Greenwich High School senior co-captain Mateo Gowland works the ball past the Ridgefield defense during the FCIAC semifinal game last year at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. — Paul Silverfarb photo

Greenwich High School senior co-captain Mateo Gowland works the ball past the Ridgefield defense during the FCIAC semifinal game last year at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. — Paul Silverfarb photo

The Greenwich High School boys soccer team has some unfinished business to take care of this year.

After advancing to both the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference and the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference class LL semis last year, the Cardinals were only a game away from reaching their goal.

With a roster full of talented returners that were a part of last year’s success, Big Red has once again high hopes for this year’s squad.

“The theme of this season is unfinished business,” Greenwich head coach Kurt Putnam said. “We need to kick off from where we left off, basically. We need to go out there in our first game this year and say that we are the team that should have the target on our back. “

Last year it took awhile, but Greenwich upended Stamford in the regular season and took off from there. Advancing to the FCIAC tournament, Greenwich blasted perennial powers Staples 3-0 before falling to Ridgefield 2-0.

In the CIAC class LL tournament, Greenwich, ranked seventh overall, beat Trumbull and Bristol Central and came back to upend Amity Regional 3-1 in the quarterfinals. However in the semis, Greenwich battled tough but ended its season with a 1-0 loss to Fairfield Prep.

With nearly the entire roster now understanding what it takes to be successful, Putnam believes the key will be to get out of the gates a lot quicker than the team did last year.

“I think we are expected to go far this year,” Putnam said. “When you have 22 seniors on a team that reached the semifinals last year, big things are expected. We need to replace a bunch of talented kids that graduated last year, but the mainstay of our program is still here from last year. They got to experience what it was like to go that far and lose a heartbreaker to Fairfield Prep.”

One of Big Red’s biggest strengths this season will be its experience and depth. In total, Greenwich will have 30 players on the roster, one of Putnam’s biggest rosters since taking over the soccer program. Out of those athletes, 22 of them are seniors, with most playing serious minutes last year. In addition to the seniors, the Cards will have seven juniors and one sophomore.

“We might have a lot of seniors and a lot of depth, but the entire team needs to take it very serious,” Putnam said. “They can’t take the foot off the gas. If they want to be the best, they have to be the best in practice and in games. We have to go back to the basics and go out there and execute from the first second of the season. We can’t wait six or seven games to kick it into gear.”

Leading the way for Greenwich this year will be captains Mateo Gowland and John Palmer, with another captain to be named before the opening game.

“I expect top leadership skills, where they can bring people’s minds back to last year and have them remember what it was like to experience going so close and so far and not being the first person over the finish line,” Putnam said. “I want them to obviously go out there and lead the team in terms of discipline and focus, and also remind the team of last year and what it’s going to take to go further.”

Although he played back-up last season to Emmet Clarke, Santiago Irigoyen will be the team’s mainstay between the pipes for Big Red.

“The kid has great feet and great hands,” Putnam said. “For a goalkeeper, his ball-handling skills are incredible. My only concern with him is if he tries and get too cute in net. If he sticks to the basics and does what we can do, we will be fine. I’ve known the kid since he was 11 years of age and he’s a fantastic goalkeeper. He’s a great shot stopper and the more confidence he gets, the better he will be.”

When it comes to defense, Greenwich will be playing a 3-2-3-2 system. Pacing the defense will be Palmer, Ryan Flippin and Will Gittings, with Sebastian Hickman, Paul Quiroga and James Graham putting in some quality time in the back.

The midfield for GHS will be a 2-3 system, with the back being led by Lucas Paiva, Hickman, Quiroga, Kelian Dequeker. At the attack midfield position will be Gowland, but Erik Aguirre and Byron Abanto could fit in there as well.

Playing wide on one side will be Quiroga and on the other side will be Eric Aguirre, Evan Tesei or Chris Galeano. Up front will most likely be Patrick Santini and Nick Bartels, but Jeffrey Vera and Eric Thakor could see time there as well.

“They all need to go out there and show me that they want to start on this team,” Putnam said. “They’ve been told this week what I expect from them and they know what it will take to be a starter here. I’m hoping that we will be able to suffocate other teams. We need to have that killer instinct and finish off games. They’ve got to stay mentally strong, work hard to get into the right positions when they are not on the ball and I expect us to out-possess other teams and kill games off.”

While Putnam will be trying to replace Pieter Zenner’s goals by finding Gowland the ball as much as possible, as well as attacking the opposing team’s defense with four attackers instead of two, the GHS coach also needs players to step up.

“We need to find someone that’s going to break open games,” Putnam said. “Last year Pieter broke open games and this year I think it’s going to have to be a few different players to break games open rather than just one person.”

One of Greenwich’s biggest challenges this season will be how it finds a way to pull out those victories in tough games.

“We need to figure out how we are going to win those games where it’s a struggle and we have to grind it out,” Putnam said. “Last year we weren’t able to do that early in the season and found out how to win those tough games late. The quicker we get into a flow and get our confidence up this year, the easier it’s going to be to get into a groove and win those close games against tough opponents.”

Despite all the pressure, Greenwich still has its goals set for improving on what happened last year.

“On paper this could be a special season,” Putnam said. “If we manage to go further than last year, that means we have played ourselves into two finals. Not too many teams can ever said that they’ve done that. Norwalk did it last year and Staples has done it in the past, but it’s very rare to go to two finals. However, it’s all up to the seniors and how determined they are.”

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