A goal in the 10th minute of Thursday night’s FCIAC Boys Soccer Tournament final gave Norwalk the momentum early in its showdown against rival Greenwich, but known as a high-scoring team, the Cardinals had a wealth of time to get going offensively and tally the equalizer and go-ahead goals.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, scoring chances were few and far between against the Bears and after 80 minutes of intense action, they were held scoreless for just the third time this season.
Selected as the championship game’s MVP, Norwalk senior striker Mateo Cano set Myles Sawyer up for a goal in the 10th minute with a brilliant move, then pass and Sawyer finished the play with a header, giving the Bears a one-goal lead – an advantage they used to hold off Greenwich until the exciting end.
Second-seeded Norwalk (14-2-2) won its first FCIAC Tournament title since the 2012 season with a dramatic 1-0 victory over top-seeded Greenwich before a huge, enthusiastic crowd at Norwalk High’s Testa Field.
Greenwich, which last won the FCIAC championship in 2017 sports a record of 13-2-3, its only two losses coming against Norwalk. The Cardinals were edged by the Bears, 2-1, on Sept. 21, in an early-season game that had a playoff type atmosphere.
“Tonight, we weren’t able to play our type of game,” Greenwich coach Kurt Putnam said. “They did a good job of stopping us from moving the ball the way we usually do. We just didn’t have enough good possession.”
At halftime, Putnam implored his squad to turn the 50/50 balls into possession and match Norwalk’s sense of urgency. Cano proved to be the man of the match, with his elusiveness and speed.
“No. 10 (Cano) is a difference-maker,” Putnam said. “He’s the best player in the conference.”
The go-ahead goal was scored with 29:11 remaining in the opening half. Dribbling the ball along the left sideline, while being tightly defended, Cano made a couple of dekes and moves to create a bit of space then lofted a perfectly-placed pass with his right foot into the far right post. Cutting toward the goal, Sawyer headed the pass by Greenwich senior goalie Julian Colin, giving the Bears a 1-0 lead.
“I saw Mateo put it in and I had to attack the ball and get that goal for my team,” Sawyer said. “It’s all because of him.”
On the game’s lone goal, Cano saw Sawyer get open, then served an outstanding pass into the box.
“I got the ball from the left side he tried to dribble, but then I saw Myles open and I passed it to him to score,” Cano said. “It feels amazing, we’re so happy and states is coming, so we have to work.”
Colin kept it a one-goal game with a save off a shot from Norwalk junior Dylan Thomas in the 19th minute. The Cards’ best scoring chances came late in the first half. Senior goalie Jake Godwin made a save in the 36th minute, then in the 38th minute got his body in front of a shot from close in by Greenwich senior Andrew Lowitt, keeping the Bears in front.
The victors were paced by seniors Brandon Rodriguez and Matteo Ruffo defensively.
“This feels amazing, I’ve been dreaming about this since freshman year and I’m glad it came true,” said Godwin, one of the Bears’ captains. “All summer we were running every day there wasn’t an off day. There was always work and we just never gave up.”
Scoring opportunities were few and far between during the second half, as both teams battled for possession in the midfield and also exhibited stellar defensive play. Greenwich senior forward Isaac Dumeny, who recorded a hat trick in the team’s 5-1 FCIAC semifinal-round win over fourth-seeded Ridgefield, hit the crossbar with a shot from 15 yards out in the 53rd minute. Dumeny threatened to score in the 74th minute, but Godwin made one of his six saves off a shot from less than five yards out.
Colin made eight saves for Greenwich, which received trophies for winning the FCIAC West Division title, for having the best FCIAC record and for placing second in the conference tournament.
“They’re a great team and at the end of the day, it just wasn’t meant to be,” said Lowitt, one of the Cardinals’ captains. “We all played our hearts out and sometimes this happens. At the end of the day, we did win the regular season, West Division and now we look to make a run at states.”
Added Greenwich senior captain/midfielder Jake Hugh-Jones: “It’s frustrating, they scored like 10 minutes in and then we couldn’t get it going early. At the end of the game, we had chances and could have equalized. They’re a great team and it just wasn’t our day today.”
Greenwich received a spark from senior captain/defender Santiago Borrego, who returned to action, after suffering a broken nose in the team’s quarterfinal-round win against Brien McMahon – a matchup decided on penalty kicks. Normally a starter, Borrego came off the bench Thursday, as he is recovering from his injury.
“It was a very intense match,” Borrego said. “I thought it was obviously, evenly matched. They took their chances and we missed a couple, especially at the end. They took their one chance early and they held on.”
The Bears succeeded in making it a challenge for the Cardinals to move the ball and connect on their passes.
“We worked on it the last few days in practice,” Norwalk coach Chris Laughton said.“We know they have a potent offense and we tried to match up with them defensively and allow them to play east to west, but we didn’t want them to penetrate and we did a really good job tonight of following that game plan.”
Soon, the Bears and Cardinals will begin their quest toward winning a state title, as the CIAC Class LL Tournament commences next week.
“We played pretty good overall and I hope we can continue this run onto states,” Greenwich senior captain Alejandro Rodriguez said. “It was a really good game, we came out hard, we were just sort of lacking the connection at the top.”
“For us seniors, it’s our last time playing and we are going to give it everything we have and hopefully, we can make a deep run in the state tournament,” Borrego said.