NEW CANAAN — There was a bit of a Thunderdome feel when the St. Joseph and New Canaan girls soccer teams met for their showdown on Friday night at Dunning Field.
While the two teams entered with matching unbeaten records, it was the Cadets leaving unscathed as they topped the host Rams in a 2-1 thriller.
Junior Maddie Fried scored both Cadet goals, giving St. Joseph a 2-0 lead before the Rams broke through with 11:57 remaining. But New Canaan was unable to get the equalizer in the closing minutes.
When a top player such as Fried has a great game, many times the best compliments come from the opposition.
“She’s such a good player; it’s tough to defend her,” New Canaan coach Rich Hickson said. “You’ve got to try and do your best and deal with fundamentals and defend correctly, but even then, she’s got all the tricks and a great shot. The girls did well, but she’s definitely a tough test.”
“They’re very athletic,” Fried said of the Rams. “We came in, we knew what to expect and we knew it was going to be a great game no matter what. It was all about hard work and they’re a really good competitive team.”
While the Rams (8-1-1) suffered their first loss, they did become the first team to score against St. Joseph (9-0-1) this season. The Cadets had outscored their first nine opponents, 41-0, with the tie coming in a scoreless duel against Wilton on opening day.
Both teams had to contend with the windy conditions on Friday.
“The first 20 minutes, I thought we played real, real well,” St. Joseph coach Jack Nogueira said. “We played to feet, we were dangerous, and we got a beautiful goal from Maddie. The last 15 minutes of the first half, because of the wind, we were a little back on our heels and defensive, but we held on. In the second half, we did what we had to do.”
Fried put the Cadets up early, scoring an unassisted goal in the 13th minute.
“I got a through ball, just took it down, saw an open shot and I ripped it,” Fried said. “It was just one of those when you see it, you have to take it. The first goal always sets the tone and once you have the lead, it gives your team the drive for the rest of the game.”
The Rams made some noise in the final 15 minutes of the first half, utilizing the speed of forwards Dillyn Patten, Kaleigh Harden and Emma Schuh to create a few chances. The Cadets’ defense, led by goalie Grace Hickey (4 saves), and backs Alexandra Rudini, Caroline Sheehan, Ashley Collins and Annie Stook, held off the pressure.
“I knew they were going to be quick and athletic, so our back line gave them a little bit more space,” Noguiera said. “If they’re going to beat us by getting the ball in front of us, that’s fine. We just didn’t want it to get behind us. It worked out today and I’m happy with how our kids played.”
The second half was back-and-forth until Fried again worked free for an open look. The Cadets pushed the ball up the left side, and after a collision about 30 yards from the goal, the ball popped loose for Fried, who sent it to the far post for a 2-0 lead with 22:22 remaining.
“All through this season, she’s been amazing,” Nogueira said of Fried. “I don’t think there’s a better attacking player in the state of Connecticut. She’s tough to handle, she’s got good pace, great moves, and she goes at people.”
New Canaan finally broke through for a goal in the 69th minute.
On a corner kick, Patten sent a booming pass to the far side of the net, where Katherine Lisecky put her head on it. The ball hit the post and caromed back into the net to close the gap to 2-1.
“The girls never give up and that’s a credit to them,” Hickson said. “That’s the belief they’ve got with the run they’ve been on since last year that they’re never out of a game. We’re always creating chances, so credit to them for not giving up and scoring that goal.”
With New Canaan looking for the equalizer, the Cadets did a great job controlling the ball in the midfield and the Rams’ third for much of the final 10 minutes.
“When we get scored on, we lose some intensity, but as a team, we got it back by working hard,” Fried said. “We did a really good job with our composure after that goal. We knew what we had to do and finished out the game.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Maddie Fried, St. Joseph. The Cadets’ junior captain scored both of her team’s goals, and was persistent in creating opportunities. She also helped control some of New Canaan’s speed through the midfield.
“Our next few games are really big and we have to keep going with our focus, keep working hard in practice, and follow through in these games. They really matter.” — Maddie Fried, St. Joseph on the Cadets’ upcoming schedule.