Two one-goal games and a tie were the results of the first three meetings between the New Canaan and Greenwich girls soccer teams this season, so it wasn’t surprising when Tuesday night’s FCIAC West Tournament semifinal, featuring the Rams and Cardinals, hung in the balance during the final minutes.
Less than a week ago, the Cardinals edged the Rams by one goal on the road at Dunning Stadium, but Tuesday, New Canaan returned the favor in a significant way.
Receiving a first-half goal from Hollis Mulry and a second-half tally from Mia Barlow, New Canaan posted a 2-1 win over Greenwich in an intense matchup at Dunning Stadium.
With the victory, the Rams advanced to the FCIAC West Region Tournament’s championship game, where they will play either Stamford or Darien.
“It’s alway a competitive soccer game when we play Greenwich,” New Canaan coach Rich Hickson said. “They do a tremendous job and once again, it was a narrow, one-goal advantage. Fortunately, for us, we were on the right side of the result this time.”
Greenwich which was 1-2-1 against New Canaan this fall, finished its season at 5-4-1.
“The intensity and effort was magnificent,” Greenwich coach Simon Rumbold said of his squad’s performance. “They wanted it so much and in a game of this magnitude it’s easy to tense up a little bit. But our team settled down and we had some chances and free kicks that we put toward the box, it just didn’t bounce our way.”
Freshman forward Julia Acosta scored Greenwich’s goal late in the second half, cutting New Canaan’s lead to 2-1. With the Cardinals applying pressuring, junior Kelly Martyanov sent a short pass to a cutting Acosta, who from near the right post, lofted a shot over the outstretched arms of Rams goalie Samantha Finn, making it 2-1 with 3:22 remaining in the second half.
The Rams then had to hold off the Cardinals in the final few frantic minutes of action. Greenwich had a pair of scoring chances during that stretch, but Finn made two key saves, one of which occurred with 46 seconds left.
“Before the game we talked about even if things went the other way to stay calm and composed,” said New Canaan senior captain Anna Zoccolillo, who helped pace the team’s play on defense and in the midfield. “After they scored a goal, we knew we could still win it and stayed calm and tried to relax, while maintaining a lot of intensity.”
Both teams battled to maintain possession the majority of the first half and their aggressiveness led to several fouls, resulting in free kicks. The matchup remained scoreless, until there was 1:50 showing on the clock in the first half.
That’s when Mulry rose up and scored on a header off a corner kick by senior Courtney O’Connell that was placed deep in the box with approximately six players converging on the ball. Mulry’s header found the top right corner of the goal, putting the Rams ahead, 1-0.
Senior Emma Schuh drew the pivotal corner kick by dribbling the ball down approximately 30 yards down the left sideline, after receiving a goal kick by Finn.
“I’m most pleased with the intensity and drive we played with throughout the entire game,” said Schuh, also a tri-captain. “We played like it was our last game. I think we came out into the game knowing we had to play with all our strength and intensity.”
The second half began with New Canaan drawing a corner kick early on, but Greenwich and sophomore goalie Isabella Gega kept it a one-goal game. Meanwhile, paced by senior Sophia Bastek, Acosta, freshman Emma Abbazia and senior Bea Owens, Greenwich moved the ball up the field more in the second half.
“The key to that was relaxing and playing how we know we could play,” said Bastek, a co-captain. “We were nervous on the ball and not playing as well as we could have in the first half. But we settled down and relaxed more in the second half.”
The Rams extended their lead to 2-0 in the 55th minute. Receiving a through ball, Barlow found herself wide open in the box and from five yards out and chipped a high shot over a leaping Gega to give the Rams a two-goal edge.
“We worked hard for this game in practice and we changed our formation to match theirs,” New Canaan senior tri-captain/defender McKenna Harden said. “This will be a season to remember with it being a COVID year — it’s a weird one. Playing in the championship game is more than we could ever ask for.”
Gega made six saves in goal for Greenwich, while Finn had five saves for the Rams.
“We had a couple of chances to score at the end, it was chaotic the last few minutes,” said Greenwich senior co-captain Kristen Berzolla, who along with junior Skyler Scavo helped lead the team’s defensive effort. “We came close scoring that tying goal. This season was interesting since we played just a few teams. But we showed our development and how much our team improved.”
Rumbold reflected on his seniors and the team’s underclassmen.
“The seniors came in with me four years ago,” he said. “We were struggling to compete back then and we are so far ahead of that now, due to their work and dedication. They will be sorely missed. We started four freshmen tonight and next year, we will be one of the youngest teams as well. But those youngsters will have so much experience, because of this year.”
Hickson praised his teams’ defensive performance.
“Our defense did fantastic,” he said. “I said to them at halftime that teams are going to create chances, but you have to try to minimize those chances, which is what we did. Our three seniors on defense have been fantastic.”