GREENWICH — Monday’s Class LL Tournament opening round game against Conard couldn’t come soon enough for the Greenwich boys soccer team, which hadn’t played since it was edged by Wilton in the FCIAC quarterfinals on Oct. 31.
Intent on getting past the first round and making a strong run in the state tournament after waiting more than a week for their next game, the Cardinals found themselves in another close matchup at their home stadium.
Yet this time, the Cardinals weren’t going to be denied.
Behind a two-goal second half, 14th-seeded Greenwich posted a 3-2 win over No. 19 Conard in the first round of the CIAC Class LL Tournament at Cardinal Stadium.
Greenwich (11-5-2) advanced to the Wednesday’s Round of 16 game, where it will visit third-seeded East Hartford (14-0-3) at 2 p.m.
Junior Matias Lew, junior Tadeo Mendive and sophomore Joao Lima scored one goal apiece for Greenwich, which led 1-0 at halftime and held advantages of 2-0 and 3-1, before Conard closed to within a goal each time.
“Throughout the week, the boys were saying we did not want our season to end here,” Mendive said. “At the FCIAC Tournament against Wilton (2-1 loss) it was tough the way the game ended. So we were all focused and determined to get this first result and improve throughout states.”
Said GHS coach Kurt Putnam: “You don’t want to wait too long from playing, but we needed to rest and re-focus after our game against Wilton. We played a very spirited and committed game today.”
Senior quad-captain Padraig Colligan made nine saves in goal for the Cardinals in this back-and-forth, physical matchup.
“Kurt (Putnam) was talking to us before the game and our focus was to try to keep the ball on the ground and prevent it from going in the air. We knew we had to keep our composure and make sure we got the win,” Colligan said.
Conard (8-6-3) received goals from junior Justin Rivas and senior Joshua Massey.
“The first half, Greenwich came out very physical, very aggressive for the first 25 minutes or so,” Conard coach Adam Linker said. “We made a little adjustment with our alignment, which generated some chances for us. We emphasized a few things at halftime in terms of trying to negate their physicality by keeping the ball moving and knocking it. The first half, we were trying to play kick and run ball, which is in line with what they do better.”
The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute. On a strong run down the left sideline, junior Ryan Smith sent a cross to a cutting Lew, who gathered the pass in the middle of the box and knocked a shot past junior goalie Baden Krisst, making it 1-0.
“We came out and we had a good counter attack going,” Lew said. “I played the ball to Ryan, he got a good run and played it back to me.”
The score remained 1-0 until Mendive struck in the 42nd minute. Senior midfielder Francisco Liguori, who was active throughout, directed a pass into the box and Mendive rose up for a header, which found its way into the goal, putting the home team on top, 2-0.
“Throughout the first half there was a lot of ping pong back and forth,” Mendive said. “Our team was really good at winning the first balls and second balls. Overall, both teams were evenly matched in the air.”
Said Linker: “They were winning everything at first. No. 16 in the middle (Liguori) is an absolute force. We made a little adjustment with our alignment, which helped us.”
The visitors closed to within 2-1 when Rivas tallied directly off his free kick on a tough angle. Positioned on the left side, he snuck his kick inside the right post, making it a one-goal game with 36:07 to go in the second half.
The Cards regained their two-goal edge when Lima scored off a scramble situation deep in the box in the 67th minute.
“Francisco (Liguori) shot the ball and I saw a deflection that came straight to my feet,” Lima said of his goal. “They were a very good team, but we maintained our composure.”
Massey’s goal off a header came in the 74th minute, trimming Greenwich’s advantage to 3-2. Senior Sam Musto assisted on the goal.
“The first half, we were trying to play kick and run ball, which is in line with what they do better,” Linker So we needed to control the ball and keep it moving better. We did that and started generating chances, but a couple of mistakes cost us.”
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Seniors Max Pisacreta and Lucas Toro helped pace Greenwich’s defensive effort. Colligan kept the Cards in front with seven saves during the second half.
“Our team learned a bit from the Wilton game,” Putnam said. “We did a good job of killing off the last five minutes this time.”
Said Lew: “In the second half, they had us a little pinned down. But we did a good job of making sure they didn’t score the tying goal.”
“We have to focus hard in practice tomorrow and fix what we are doing wrong,” Lima said. “Our team knows we have the potential to win the whole thing.”