Dominating Greenwich boys soccer team advances to FCIAC semis

Kurt Putnam knew that the first round of the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference tournament would be a test when his Greenwich High School boys soccer team took to the pitch against perennial powers Staples High School.

However, if Saturday’s game against the Wreckers was a test, the Cardinals passed with flying colors, dominating Staples from the start and coming away with the 3-0 victory.

“I was quite pleased,” Putnam said. “I looked at the video I thought we closed down other team’s spaces a lot quicker and in numbers than we did before. I thought we didn’t start the second half too well. They tried and didn’t get one shot in the first half. They started to go a little more direct and got a few more free kicks because they were putting on pressure in the second half. They were going deep in our box, but we dealt with them really well. I thought they realized that they couldn’t outplay us. As they started to push more players up to forward, that just opened the field up much more.”

The Cardinals, seeded third in the FCIAC quarterfinals, hosted sixth-seed Staples High School at Cardinal Stadium.

Will Gittings gave the Cardinals the 1-0 lead in the first half and the duo of Pieter Zenner and Joao Galbier each netted goals in the second half to put the game out of reach. Mateo Gowland and Paul Quiroga each picked up assists. GHS goalie Emmett Clarke added five saves in the winning effort.

Back on Oct. 8, it was a different story, as Greenwich fell to Staples in a 1-0 battle. In fact, Greenwich hasn’t had the best of luck against the Wreckers. In addition to the loss earlier in the season, Big Red lost to Staples twice last year, both one-goal outcomes.

“Staples is always a big game when you play them,” Putnam said. “They have been our nemesis. They have been a team that we have struggled against to really get any form of good possession and get them on their back foot. It’s usually a one mistake game where they capitalize on it, but it also looked like we were never in the game. We let them have too much freedom to play their game and when you do that against Staples, you know you’re going to struggle.”

However, this time around Putnam knew that this would be the perfect time for his squad to break the streak.

“I looked at the boys and told them that they have absolutely nothing to fear,” Putnam said. “I said that we played every game since losing to them great and I didn’t feel like losing. I thought against Stamford we didn’t play well in the first half but in the second half Stamford didn’t know what hit them. I just wanted them to go out and play the same way we’ve been playing. I wanted them to close the spaces down and make it hard for them.”

With the victory, Greenwich (13-2-2) will battle No. 2 seed Ridgefield High School, who beat New Canaan High School 1-0 on a goal by senior Kent Coleman. The game is currently scheduled for today at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, however the dates and times of the FCIAC semifinal games are still up in the air.

With the massive storm reeking havoc on the Northeast earlier in the week, both Ridgefield and Greenwich high schools were unable to feed off their FCIAC opening round victories and build momentum heading into the semifinals. No practices were held.

“We got back out there on Sunday to work on a couple of things and try to stay loose, however I think all four teams left in the tournament think they got some momentum and that could be taken away because of the weather coming in,” Putnam said. “I think it’s going to be a case for who can really get themselves up for the game, get on the scoresheet early and feed off that momentum from the goal.”

On Oct. 13, GHS hosted the Tigers and came away with the hard-fought 2-2 tie.

“Ridgefield is a good program and the result of our first meeting was a fair result,” Putnam said. “We had the first half and they had the second half. This time around I just need to keep our guys believing and have them make sure they know that they have 80 more minutes to make sure they’re playing in a championship.”

In that first battle, Greenwich played a 3-2-4-1, which means the Cards had an overload at midfield, but were light up front. With Big Red playing a 4-4-2 against Ridgefield’s 3-5-2, it’s important for the midfielders to get the ball to the two strikers.

“That means those three defenders are going to mark my two strikers and Staples had four defenders that couldn’t do that,” Putnam said. “It could be a little battle of me pushing one of my defenders into a defensive midfield position to get an extra body in there. It should be a neutral game in midfield, but we are going to try and capitalize on the fact that they are playing three defenders and we are playing with two strikers. If we could get the ball to the midfielders so they could get it to the two strikers, I think we will cause them more than enough problems.”

Since Greenwich’s first game against Staples High School, the Cardinals have been flying high. In the previous eight games, Greenwich hasn’t been on the losing side of the scoreboard, beating teams like Westhill (2-0), Stamford (3-1), Danbury (1-0) and Fairfield Ludlowe (2-0).

Putnam said that he’s been telling his squad throughout the season that making it difficult for other teams to get into a rhythm and closing down their spaces.

“Since the Staples loss, where we didn’t particularly play well in their place, we’ve consistently gotten better every game we’ve played and haven’t lost since that game,” Putnam said. “The players understand that closing other team’s spaces down and getting our players around the ball to make tackles and really get the other team to turn the ball back over due to pressure is really something to grab hold of.”

Another reason for Greenwich’s hot streak has been Putnam’s successful ability to tinker with the roster. Zenner was moved back to center of the field and Mateo Gowland was positioned up front to play along Galbier. Gitting and John Palmer became Putnam’s center-backs. All those moves have helped Big Red become a dominating presence in the FCIAC the second half of the season.

It also has been helping that the team’s side play, with Jamie Kyle and Sebastian Hickman in wide defense and Quiroga, who moved out from defense to wide midfield with Hayden Leftie, has been much-improved.

“It’s helped us develop a better sense of cohesion,” Putnam said. “They are a well-defined spine of the team. Having gone from what we were playing to playing since the first Staples game, which was recognizing the importance of rearranging our own personnel, I think that’s helped as well.

Big Red’s winning streak has given the team a sense of confidence and Putnam believes that his team could ride the momentum pretty far in both the FCIAC and class LL tourneys.

“I think it’s either going to take a really good team to beat us take us making some mistakes,” Putnam said. “We have made a lot less mistakes with the players that are playing new positions and every time we get the ball, we are dangerous.”

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