A tense penalty shootout situation is nothing new to the Greenwich High School boys soccer team, which entering last night’s CIAC Class LL semifinal-round game against Fairfield Prep, had already defeated Farmington and top-seeded Trumbull in matchups that were decided by penalty kicks. Therefore, when nothing was settled between Greenwich and Fairfield Prep during regulation time, then overtime, the Cardinals were quite comfortable when it was penalty shootout time.
Another penalty kicks shootout resulted in a celebration for Greenwich, which reached the state championship game in its usual dramatic fashion.
Greenwich, the No. 16 seed, eliminated another lower seeded squad, this time topping 13th-seeded Fairfield Prep, 2-1, in a thrilling Class LL semifinal-round matchup that went to penalty kicks, at rainy and cold Fairfield Warde High School.
The Cardinals, who were victorious in the penalty shootout against the Jesuits, 3-2, will play Hall High School in the state championship game, which will be held either Saturday or Sunday.
“It was an incredible game,” said Greenwich coach Kurt Putnam, whose squad last made the Class LL state final in 2019, where they were edged by the team they will play this weekend, Hall. “Give Prep credit, they went to the final of the SCC and you can see why. They’re athletic, they know how they want to play. They play to their strengths and they took us all the way down to the bitter end. But I’m incredibly proud of our team. They’ve played extremely well in throughout this tournament.”
After regulation play ended in a 1-1 tie, the Cardinals and Jesuits battled through an intense, back-and-forth 20-minute overtime session (two 10-minute periods). Then came the nail-biting penalty shootout.
“It was definitely a privilege, Fairfield Prep is a great competitor,” GHS senior midfielder/captain Jamie Smith said of playing in such a thrilling matchup. “That’s what you can expect from two scrappy teams, a 13 seed and a 16 seed getting to the state semifinals. They had a great game and we had a great game as well. And we keep on capitalizing on the chances when we get penalties, because we have a clutch team.”
Indeed, Greenwich has shown knack for converting its penalty kicks with all eyes on them. Calm and cool under pressure has been one of the Cardinals calling cards.
Fairfield Prep scored on two of its penalty kick attempts, while Greenwich converted three of its kicks. Junior Charlie Fiore, senior Franklin Sousa-Filho and junior Andre Meier scored on their penalty kicks, propelling the Cardinals to victory. Meanwhile, GHS senior goalie Nico Figueroa prevented two Fairfield Prep penalty kicks from finding their mark to seal the hard-fought win.
Junior Charlie Fiore snuck his shot past Prep’s goalkeeper inside the right post, junior Andre Meier guessed right and knocked his penalty kick into the left corner of the goal and senior Franklin Sousa-Filho scored on his shot for Greenwich during the penalty shootout. Adrian Fernandez and Jack Hickey converted their penalty kicks for Fairfield Prep, but Cardinals senior goalie Nico Figueroa, a veteran of facing such situations made a pair of key saves to seal Greenwich’s well-earned win.
“My mind kind of went blank, I just went with my gut and it happened,” Figueroa said of facing the penalty shootout situation. “It’s incredible, if you told us two weeks ago we would be here, I wouldn’t have believed it but now that we’re here, we have to make the best of it.”
The Jesuits seized a 1-0 lead with 30:25 remaining in the second half, courtesy of a goal by midfielder Brando Savi. A senior, Savi dribbled the ball into the box, created space for himself and deposited a shot past a diving Figueroa inside the left post, giving Prep a one-goal lead.
It certainly didn’t take Greenwich long to respond though. Junior forward Maximo Ferrario’s unassisted goal evened the score at the 29:38 mark of the second half. Ferrario’s goal came from less than five yards out, as he penetrated deep into the box.
“I was dribbling and I was going to try to hit it down and I hit it and it got through the defenders,” Ferrario said of his goal. “It’s wet and slippery and I had confidence I had to hit it low and hard and I’m just happy it went in.”
Greenwich, which is obviously peaking at the right time, has a record of 14-6-2, following its fourth straight state tournament triumph.
“I’m amazed about how our defense is playing, about how everyone is playing as a team,” Ferrario said. “That’s why we’re winning games, because we’re playing as a team, not as individual players and that’s what’s bringing us the wins.”
Senior forward Lucas Luzuriaga helped create chances for the Cardinals throughout with his aggressive play, as did Ferrario, while senior Gordy Cartwright, senior Nick Carvalho, sophomore Pietro Carvalho and junior Gerardo Guerra helped pace the Cards play in the midfield and on defense, respectively.
“The team gave it their all and we fought until the end and gave it 100 percent the whole time,” Nick Carvalho said. “I felt very confident in our team. I think we’re playing very well and we got the result we got.”
Both teams took several free kicks during the second half, with Luzuriaga nearly scoring off with no time left, as Prep’s goalie stretched out wide for the save.
“It took a lot of work defensively, we were immediately getting back to support each other,” Cartwright said. “No one expected us to get here and here we are. All of us working together, they worked really hard, but we ended up winning.”
Greenwich advanced to last night’s semifinals by defeating ninth-seeded Newington on the road, 1-0. They eliminated No. 1-seeded Trumbull in the Round of 16, 1-0, in a game that was decided in penalty kicks and beat last seasons’ Class LL champion Farmington, 2-1, in a penalty shootout.
“The comraderie of the team and the passion that we play every game with is making us win now,” Figueroa noted.
For the Cardinals, the turning point of their season may have come when they dropped a 5-1 decision to Trumbull in the FCIAC Tournament semifinals.
“We got beaten by Trumbull well and all I asked them to do in the last half against Trumbull was to play with pride – go and fight for every single ball out there and try to win every 10 minnutes,” Putnam said. “They did that and after the game I was so proud of the way they played in the second half. We said, let’s take that learning experience into the state tournament and see where it takes us.”
It’s taken the to the state championship game and now they will seek their first state title in recent memory. When Greenwich made the state final in 2019, it was their first appearance in the title game since 1978.
“We had been getting ourselves in trouble, because we hadn’t been staying in games, we were making careless mistakes,” Putnam said of his team’s setbacks early in the season. “If we cut the careless mistakes out, we can take anybody in the state the distance.
“We are playing such incredible team defense and the energy that’s being provided by the four midfielders, the fullbacks getting down the field to support when we are attacking,” Putnam continued. “They say that you should never stop learning and this season, I’ve learned a lot about a particular group of boys who have this incredible belief in themselves. They are riding this wave.”