Less than a week before the Greenwich boys soccer team’s season-opener in September, coach Kurt Putnam was asked which players were starting at certain positions, but he couldn’t give a definitive answer.
“We graduated 29 players from last year’s team and we brought only a few players back, so I didn’t even know what my starting team was going to look like three days before the season started,” Putnam said.
A little more than two months later, the Cardinals were playing for the state championship.
The Cardinals new-look squad quickly jelled, registering shutout victories in their first six games, before going through an 0-2-2 stretch midway through the season. They rebounded though, going 4-2 down the stretch for a 10-4-2 regular season finish.
Stunned when Wilton scored two late goals in a 2-1 loss to the Warriors in the FCIAC Tournament quarterfinals, Greenwich was a rejuvenated squad in the CIAC Class LL Tournament.
Seeded 14th, the Cards beat No. 19 Conard in the opening round of the Class LL tourney, then eliminated No. 3 East Hartford, No. 11 Hamden and seventh-seeded Farmington, putting them in a position the program hadn’t been in since 1978 — playing for the state title.
While Greenwich’s last appearance in the state title game was 1978, its last victory in the final came in 1961, so this fall’s squad, was indeed, one the school will remember.
Thanks to a hat trick by Conlan Wilson, top-seeded Hall halted Greenwich’s quest for a state title, defeating the Cardinals, 3-1, at New Britain High School’s Veterans Stadium on Saturday night.
Though, of course, disappointed, Greenwich exited Veterans Stadium knowing it accomplished plenty this fall.
“Nobody had us going to the finals as a 14 seed and beating the teams we had to beat to get there,” Putnam said. “I am incredibly proud of our team. The sheer desire, effort and personality they developed was impressive. I could not have asked anything more from them.”
Senior Padraig Colligan was one of the few remaining players from Greenwich’s 2018 squad, which advanced to the Class LL Tournament quarterfinals. This, however, marked his first year as the team’s starting goalie and he rose to the occasion. Greenwich posted 10 shutouts with Colligan in goal this season and his play helped keep the Cardinals right with No. 1 Hall in Saturday’s title game. He made 14 saves, several of which kept the scored tied at 1-1, before Hall scored the go-ahead tally in the 64th minute.
“This season was fantastic,” Colligan said. “With how we did last year and how many seniors graduated, there was some worry about our team this preseason. We were figuring out who was going to play where and we had to move players from position to position. We had a fantastic 6-0 start to the season, we made the FCIAC Tournament and even though we didn’t like how we went out in the tournament, we flipped that switch for the CIAC tournament. We’ve had better teams in the past record-wise, but this team has worked harder than anyone on the field.”
Trailing Hall, 1-0, Greenwich knotted the score in the state final when senior Farid Ghaliya tallied with 11:29 remaining in the opening half. Throughout the season, the Cards’ showed a penchant for responding when the opposition scored.
“We went down 1-nil, which was the first time we had gone down in five games in the tournament and then we came back,” Putnam said. “It looked like we were causing problems. We thought we were going to be the team that got that second goal, but it never came about and in the end, we got punished by a really good team. Hall’s front men came up big and they were a strong side, but I am incredibly proud of our team.”
Said Cardinals senior midfielder Francisco Liguori, who trained hard to come back for the postseason after sustaining a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined most of the regular season: “It was an unbelievable run. It was a great way to end my senior year and I’m proud of these boys. They did something that hasn’t been done since 1978, so it was a great feeling. We, as a team, left it all out there.”
Following the setback to Wilton in the FCIAC Tournament quarterfinals, the Cardinals believed their season was far from over.
“Heading into the state tournament, I asked the team, what’s our identity and personality, what do we want to be known as?” said Putnam, who noted a CIAC official informed him that his squad showed outstanding sportsmanship by clapping for every Hall player while they received their medal during the postgame awards ceremony. “The team said, we want to be known as the Greenwich team that is going to go all the way to the finals. I hope they take this with them in life that you get out of what you put in.”
Saturday’s state final marked the final game for Greenwich’s 19 seniors, so next season’s roster will again, be different. Yet the Cardinals’ 2020 squad can certainly learn from what they knew and heard about, from this fall’s team.
“The brotherhood on this team was special,” said GHS senior Davi Pedreiro, who also served as one of the captains. “Making it to the final made us walk out of here (Veterans Stadium) with our heads held high. We celebrated after winning in the semifinals, because we knew we made history that day by making it to the finals. We made a lot of great memories together.”