GREENWICH — Friday marked the fourth time the Greenwich and New Canaan boys soccer teams played against each other during this abbreviated season and the stakes were indeed, much higher in this latest matchup.
The victor would earn a chance to end this atypical season with a championship, with a victory putting them into the title game of the FCIAC West Region Tournament.
And like the first three meetings between the teams, the Cardinals received the exact result they were seeking.
Top-seeded Greenwich’s 2-0 win against New Canaan, its fourth victory over the Rams this fall, moved it into Tuesday’s FCIAC West Region Tournament final against No. 3 Westhill.
The Vikings advanced to the championship game by defeating Darien, 2-1, in Friday’s other tournament semifinal.
“It feels great, especially coming off last season against Hall when we lost,” Greenwich senior midfielder Tadeo Mendive said, referring to the Cardinals’ loss in the 2019 Class LL tournament finals. “All season we were motivated, saying we want to be first and make it to the final.”
Mendive recorded a second-half goal for the Cardinals, who did not allow a goal in any of their four games against the Rams.
“The work rate the boys showed was amazing, especially in the second half, after we started off really slow,” said Mendive, one of the Cardinals’ captains. “We couldn’t get it going and when the second half began, we started passing and moving.”
New Canaan finished its season at 4-7-1, having entered Friday’s game with two straight victories.
“The whole squad played their hearts out,” New Canaan coach Luke Green said. “They improved as a squad this season and put in some good performances. We were hoping for a different result today, but that wasn’t the case.”
Rams junior goalie Alex Wolter turned in a stellar performance, making 14 saves, while facing a lot of pressure from the Cardinals throughout.
“He does his job back there, he has goalkeeping down as an artform,” Green said of Wolter. “He made some good saves for us.”
After Wolter made several saves, Greenwich took a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute. Applying pressure, the Cardinals penetrated into the box and a shot appeared to deflect off a Rams’ defender and found its way inside the right post for an own goal. Greenwich senior William Flynn who was right near the ball on the play, was credited with the assist and felt he may have scored on the play, though it was officially ruled an own goal.
“We got a good ball in I just happened to be on the ball and we managed to put it in the net,” said Flynn, who was positioned at the right post. “Some people were skeptical, saying I was offsides, but I wasn’t offsides on the play and we managed to score the goal.”
New Canaan drew numerous free kicks in the first half due to Greenwich fouls, but had less opportunities in the second half.
“We weren’t connecting the passes and giving away too many fouls,” Greenwich coach Kurt Putnam said. “There were a lot of fouls in the first half, even though we were winning. Every department we were better in the second half. It was a game of two halves for us, but give New Canaan credit, they played well.”
The Rams had a chance to even the score at the 10:20 mark of the opening half, but a header off senior Evan Beiles’ corner kick was high. The second half began with Greenwich efficiently using through balls and connecting its passes. Cardinals senior Alejandro Rodriguez tested Wolter with several shots on goal, but the Rams’ goalie kept it a 1-0 game, until Mendive struck in the 51st minute off a set piece.
Awarded a direct kick, the Cardinals (10-1) capitalized. Matias Lew’s direct kick hit the left post and bounced a few yards out in front of the goal. Charging toward the goal, Mendive put a right-footed volley into the open net, as Wolter hit the turf, while diving toward the kick, making it 2-0.
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“It was a beautiful shot, I was lucky that it hit the post and came to me,” Mendive said. “It was in the air and I jumped up and tried patting it in and when it went in, it was just straight euphoria.”
Whether it’s corner kicks, direct kicks or free kicks, Greenwich has experienced plenty of success on set pieces.
“Capitalizing on set pieces means a lot,” Greenwich junior defensive midfielder Jake Hugh-Jones said. “We went over set pieces in practices, we have several great set-piece takers, so it’s nice to get rewarded for something we worked on.”
Jones helped lead Greenwich’s defensive effort, along with senior Gent Gashi.
“I just feel like we’re all on the same page,” Jones said. “We’re really confident on long balls, we haven’t had any trouble all season. It comes down to being on the same page.”
The matchup marked the final game for New Canaan senior captains Henry Lindberg and Doyle Catlin.
“Toward the end of the year, people started bonding and meshing more and we started putting in the goals and getting the results we wanted,” Catlin said. “Unfortunately, we have played these guys a bunch of times and haven’t gotten the result we’ve wanted, but I think this was our best performance so far.”
Added Lindberg: “It came down to a couple of goals, the first one was questionable, but they dealt with it well and they were putting the pressure on us. I was happy with our season and the run we made at the end and I’m just glad we had a season.”
Junior Julian Colin made three saves for Greenwich, which notched its seventh clean sheet of the season.
“The more we started to sync into it a little bit we stepped up and played really well,” Lew said. “Even though we have beaten them a few times we’ve had to work for it and this time was no different.”
Said Putnam: “In the second half, our team really delivered and looked like the team that played well in most of the games this year. Now they get a chance to play in the final.”