After 100 minutes of intense action that saw a number of players leave the game with injuries and several more banged up, Thursday’s FCIAC Tournament quarterfinals between top-seeded Greenwich and eighth-seeded Brien McMahon still wasn’t decided, so it was penalty shootout time – a portion of a matchup that always has players, coaches and fans on edge.
One by one, the Cardinals converted their kicks from the penalty mark and when Lucas Luzuriaga’s shot settled into the bottom left corner of the goal, it was celebration time for the No. 1-seed.
Greenwich edged Brien McMahon, 2-1, on penalty kicks, converting all five of its kicks, while McMahon was successful on three at windy Cardinal Stadium. The victory sent the Cardinals (12-1-3) into Monday’s FCIAC Tournament semifinals at Fairfield Ludlowe against an opponent yet to be determined.
Senior goalie Julian Colin made a key save on a penalty kick and registered more than a dozen saves for the victors. Laser focused, Colin knew he had to be at his best when the game went to the penalty shootout in which five players from each squad takes penalty kicks.
“I was just really focused,” Colin said. “I was looking into the player’s eyes, I was looking at their body movement to see if they would open up to the left or right side.”
Senior Alejandro Rodriguez, Jake Hugh-Jones (senior), senior Max Acosta, junior Jacob Galvez and Luzuriaga each converted their penalty kicks for the Cards. The Senators (5-5-6) made three penalty kicks, with seniors Alex Pasiakos and Eli Good converting their attempts. Colin made a save on McMahon’s first penalty kick attempt.
“That first save that I made I knew he was going to my left, because of the way his body was positioned,” Colin said. “I knew I was confident the second he kicked the ball that I was going to save it.”
Thursday’s game marked the second time in Colin’s soccer career that he faced a penalty shootout situation.
“In middle school, I was in the championship finals with some of the players on my team and it was the same feeling,” Colin said. “It’s really exciting.”
When Luzuriaga made his penalty kick it was survive and advance for the Cardinals.
“I knew where I was going to shoot, it was relieving, now we are on to the next round,” Luzuriaga said. “We have a target on our back, everyone wants to beat us.”
The triumph was, as Cardinals coach Kurt Putnam said, “costly” for Greenwich. Senior Santiago Borrego (nose), junior Jamie Smith (knee), senior Graham Miller (knee) and senior Andrew Lowitt each left the game with injuries. The team will assess their situation for Monday’s semifinals.
“We had four yellow cards against them the first game of the season and now I’ve got four injuries,” Putnam said. “We have to regroup. I think McMahon played a heck of a game. They had a strategy and they stuck with it. You could tell they wanted to get the ball long and capitalize on mistakes. But they hustled and worked really hard. They closed us down and we found it difficult.”
The first half, especially the first 25 minutes, saw Greenwich create several scoring chances. The Cards nearly scored, but an offsides infraction, kept them off the scoreboard. On another play, a hand-ball on a Greenwich player nullified a goal.
“We knew Brien McMahon was a very good team,” Hugh-Jones said. “The first game of the season we played them it was a good game (a 3-2 GHS win), so we knew it would be a challenge. There were some tough conditions with the wind. We had at the wind at our back in the first half, but didn’t capitalize on it. I just think we were a little slow, the final touch just wasn’t there, but we did get one.”
Greenwich took a 1-0 lead on McMahon off a set piece with 5:06 remaining in the first of two 10-minute overtime sessions. Charging the goal, Galves scored off a well-placed corner kick, making it 1-0.
At the 6:45 mark of the second 10-minute overtime, the Senators tied the score off a direct kick. Senior Yerson Villalobos perfectly angled his shot from 25 yards out past Greenwich’s wall of defenders and the ball found its way into the bottom left corner of the goal.
Both teams battled for possession and chances the remainder of overtime, which was especially nerve-wracking for the goalies.
“I was nervous the entire time,” Colin said. “The second half of overtime was the longest 10 minutes.”
Said Rodriguez: “That was very tough, there were moments where we lost our head and they didn’t stop pressing us and pressing us. But we pulled through. Once we got to the penalties five of us stepped up and from there we decided it.”
Like Thursday’s matchup, the season-opener between the Cardinals and Senators was a gritty, physical contest.
“McMahon is a really physical team,” Luzuriaga said. “We knew it was going to be like that, they play with a lot of passion. We know a bunch of the kids that play there and we played them the first game of the season and beat them 3-2, so we came ready for that. We didn’t underestimate them and it showed.”
Added Rodriguez: “I’m more than excited about advancing to the semifinals. I’m grateful and I’m looking forward to the next game.”