One of the signs of a team showing significant improvement on its way toward becoming a contender is its ability to defeat an opponent it hasn’t been victorious against in a long time.
Greenwich High School’s girls soccer team showed such a sign Monday at Cardinal Stadium, using a three-goal second half to earn something it hadn’t experienced in quite a while – a victory against rival Darien.
Ali Pennella, Kelly Martyanov and Emma Abbazia each scored in the second half for Greenwich in its 3-2 comeback win over visiting Darien in a key FCIAC matchup. The triumph marked Greenwich’s first win against Darien in coach Simon Rumbold’s five seasons at the helm. The Blue Wave also defeated Greenwich two or three years prior to Rumbold taking over the program.
“This is a big win for our program,” Rumbold said. “They had a hold of us the last seven or eight years. We’ve been trying to grow the program and we have been steadily improving. We had two really good games against them last year and to get the win today was really important to our team.”
Rumbold noted that his first game as the Cardinals’ coach in 2017 was against Darien, which posted a 6-0 win over his Greenwich squad.
“We were 6-0 down at halftime in that game, so this shows how far we have come in the last four or five years,” Rumbold said. “It’s nice to get a win against a very good team like Darien.”
Greenwich (3-4-1) took the lead for good in the 44th minute, courtesy of Martyanov. A senior center forward, Martyanov rose up high in the box and directed a header off a corner kick from sophomore forward Julia Acosta past Darien’s goalie, giving the Cardinals a 2-1 edge.
“I had a dream the other night that I was going to score on a diving header,” said Martyanov, who saw her dream come true. “It was a great feeling to score that goal. We have been working on that a great amount of practices.”
Martyanov has produced offensively for the Cards, especially on set pieces.
“That was her third goal off a corner,” Rumbold said of Martyanov. “Julia puts in a great ball and Kelly has the height, aggression and technique needed.”
The Cardinals stretched their advantage to 3-1 in the 75th minute when Abbazia, a sophomore, forward, went on a strong run, got past Darien’s defenders and converted a shot from approximately 25 yards out.
“It feels good to get this win, we were excited to go out there and show what we can do against a good team,” Abbazia said. “The key for us to create so many scoring chances was keeping our heads up and connecting our passes.”
“On Emma’s goal, it was a good combination,” Rumbold said. “She managed to get around the defense and she saw the opening.”
Darien didn’t have a letdown after falling behind by two goals though. The Blue Wave closed to within 3-2 on senior Shea Dolce’s goal with 3:20 remaining in the second half. The visitors applied pressure in Greenwich’s end the final three minutes, but Cardinals’ junior goalie Isabella Gega (six saves) helped the team seal the win.
“We knew Darien was going to come and put pressure on and they did,” Rumbold said. “That goal they scored was a great finish from the wide area. Finding that part of the net from that angle is not easy. I thought our girls managed the game well, we defended as a group.”
Senior Skyler Scavo, a co-captain, junior Caroline Lawrence and sophomore Meghan Ross led the play defensively, while Pennella, sophomore Brook Wilkowski and Jones helped pace the midfielders.
“Brooke Wilkowski, that was the best game I’ve seen her have and Ali was outstanding,” Rumbold said. “She made the game her own and played with confidence and made things happen.”
The Cardinals spent a good portion of the opening half on Darien’s end, but the Blue Wave went into halftime with a 1-0 lead. With 3:20 remaining in the first half, Darien was awarded a free kick. Catching Greenwich a bit off guard as it looked to get into defensive position, junior Collette Quinn quickly took the free kick from 37 yards out and perfectly lofted her kick over the head of Gega in goal, giving the Blue Wave a 1-0 advantage. Quinn, Dolce and Maggie Ramsay helped ignite Darien’s overall effort.
“The forwards were moving in the seams and creating opportunities and getting the ball in the box,” Martyanov said of the Cardinals’ overall offensive performance. Our wings did a great job of that. Our overall play was strong. We were advancing the ball fast.”
Pennella scored off a free kick, knotting the score at 1-1 1:58 into the second half.
“We played with a lot of energy and kept up our momentum throughout the game,” Pennella said.
The Cards hope to keep up their momentum Wednesday against a formidable Ridgefield team on the road.
“Ridgefield has been a strong team, they are really competitive and we are looking forward to that game,” Martyanov said. “We have to keep putting the ball in the box and move it quickly.”
Among Gega’s six saves were a pair off Blue Wave breakaway attempts. Rumbold enjoyed seeing his squad start the game strong and keep up their aggressive pace.
“In terms of getting the ball down we can be a match for everyone,” he said. “When we do that we can be a match for any team the girls did that really well today. I felt like we spent a lot of time in their half.”