Greenwich made an early exit in the FCIAC boys soccer tournament, but has stayed around until the end of the CIAC Class LL tournament.
And a long break between the FCIAC and Class LL tournaments may have been just what the Cardinals needed to obtain a victory it has waited decades for.
After losing to Wilton in the quarterfinals of the eight-team FCIAC tournament, Greenwich had 10 days to prepare for the state tourney and as its recent results indicate, it made the most of the extra time.
The 14th-seeded Cardinals (14-5-2) play fifth-seeded Hall (17-1-2) in the championship game of the Class LL Tournament Saturday at New Britain’s Veteran’s Stadium at 5:30 p.m.
Greenwich, which is 4-0 in the tournament, including wins against three opponents that were seeded higher, is seeking its first state title since 1961. The Cardinals are also making their first appearance in the state title game since 1978. The Cards edged Manchester in 1961, 2-1, and lost to Staples, 3-2, in 1978.
“We were all very unhappy about going out in the first round of the FCIAC tournament,” GHS senior goalie/captain Padraig Colligan said. “Especially since it was a home game against Wilton, a team we beat the week before. After that loss, we just flipped some sort of switch. Our team realized that we had to start defining our own season.”
The Cardinals were a focused squad from the start in their Class LL opening-round game against 19th-seeded Conard and have continued their momentum.
“That loss to Wilton forced us to go back to the drawing board and focus on doing what was right for us and what worked,” said GHS coach Kurt Putnam, who is in his 18th season at the helm. “Having all those days off after the FCIAC tournament allowed us to refocus, rest up and gave some of our players who had nagging injuries opportunities to get healthy. We went into the state tournament healthy, in fact, this is the healthiest we’ve been all season.”
Greenwich’s journey toward the state final began with a 3-2 victory against Conard in the first round, receiving goals from junior Matias Lew, junior Tadeo Mendive and Joao Pedro Lima.
“That was a very emotional game for us, especially our seniors, since it was our last home game of the season,” Colligan said. “After the FCIAC tournament, we had the most focused week of practice we had this year and we were able to plan things out and scout.”
The Cardinals have been road warriors since, defeating third-seeded East Hartford, 4-2, in the second round, 11th-seeded Hamden, 2-1, in the quarterfinals and eliminating seventh-seeded Farmington (3-2) in the semifinals.
“Going to East Hartford, we knew we didn’t have anything to lose, we were the underdog and we had that mentality,” Colligan said. “Everyone probably wrote us off and picked other teams, but us.”
As has been the case all season, the Cardinals have received scoring from numerous sources during the postseason. Senior Josh Frumin tallied twice for the Cardinals in the quarterfinals, while Lima, senior Farid Ghaliya and sophomore Isaac Dumeny each scored goals in squad’s semifinal-round triumph over Farmington.
Now the Cardinals face their toughest test of the season Saturday in the form of Hall, a squad that lost to Glastonbury in the Class LL final in 2018.
Hall topped Trumbull in the semifinals, 8-5, and ousted fourth-seeded Naugatuck in the quarterfinals, 5-0. Coached by Zeke Seguro, Hall posted a 6-1 win against Cheshire in the second round and was victorious against E.O. Smith in the opening round.
“Hall is going to score goals,” Putnam said. “They are dangerous up front and they have disposed of some good sides. Minimizing their opportunities is going to be key for us.”
Experiencing tough games during the regular season and in the postseason has aided the squad Putnam believes.
“I feel that we are battle-tested,” he said. “We have been involved in some close games, which brings out the best in you. Against a great team like Hall, we know we have to play our game. We have beaten the three, four and seven seed and we have not really changed anything from any of those games.”
Said Colligan: “We want to impose our will and allow them to play our game. Imposing our will on our opponent is one of the things we have been able to do in the tournament so far.”
So has playing from in front. Greenwich hasn’t trailed in any of its four games during the Class LL tourney, a trend they hope continues on Saturday in New Britain. Senior midfielder Francisco Liguori’s return to the team late in the season has helped spark the Cards. Putnam’s strategy of moving junior Ryan Smith from sweeper to striker and inserting senior Lucas Toro to sweeper has also paid dividends.
“You have to score goals to win in the state tournament and these moves has allowed us to play more of a high pressure game,” Putnam said.
Greenwich, which shut out its first six opponents has posted 10 shutouts this season — the same amount as Hall. Colligan has made his mark in his first season Greenwich’s starting goalie.
“Playing behind Jimmy Johnson the past two years, an All-American goalie, helped me a lot,” said Colligan, who has a standout group of defenders in front of him. “Jimmy taught me a lot and now getting the opportunity to play for the state championship will be surreal. It’s been an amazing run and hopefully, we can end the season by making history for Greenwich. Our success did not end in the semifinals. We want winning the state championship to be our greatest accomplishment.”