The fast start by the Warde boys soccer team this fall could have easily been written off as the team simply having a favorable schedule to begin the season.
The team picked up wins against lower echelon teams Westhill, New Canaan and Bridgeport Central, along with a victory over a young Norwalk team trying to find its way early in the season.
Then the wins started coming against teams not so easily dismissed.
A win over Staples and a tie against previously unbeaten Wilton turned a few heads, but it was a trip north that alerted the rest of the FCIAC and the state that this Warde team was for real.
Traveling to Danbury, Warde handed the undefeated, and then No. 2 ranked team in the state, a 1-0 loss.
The wins never stopped.
In the final regular-season state coaches poll, Warde was the No. 1 ranked team, picking up 10 of 15 first-place votes.
The Mustangs completed the first unbeaten regular season in school history, going 13-0-3 in what is widely considered the toughest, top-to-bottom, conference in the state.
“It means a lot. It hasn’t been done in Warde history and we are looking to keep it going,” Warde senior captain Danny Villalba said. “We are exhausted but our winning mentality is there and we want it, every game. As an 11, we are all there. We are all sharing the responsibility, we are all supporting each other.”
Villalba is an all-state caliber midfielder who spends games going from the offensive to the defensive side of the field, showing extraordinary fitness and truly playing box-to-box soccer.
Villalba is certainly not alone. The Mustangs have talent all over the roster and seemingly a different player stepping up every game.
One game the forwards shine, another it is the defense or keeper Andrew Jones, but most games, it is a team effort.
The players are not shy about letting teammates know when someone is not carrying their weight, demanding all 11 on the field do their jobs.
“Everyone has a role and everyone is being held accountable for that role,” Warde coach Justin Ottavio said. “When something goes awry, we are going to solve it like a family would. Sometimes that means people being more assertive than others. In the end, we will look out for each other and support each other in good times and bad. This is a special year for us and we want to play for one another. We want to make sure we will be there for each other, through everything.”
Warde plays a physical brand of soccer with big bodies all over the field.
That style of play served them well in the FCIAC and is tailor-made for postseason play.
They are more than muscle, however, with skill players including Villalba and Jordan Klicin who are apt at finding the back of the net.
The team is also adaptable, going from an attacking side one game to a team with five on the backline the next, playing the style which best suits the moment and finding much success doing so.
The Mustangs were denied a FCIAC tournament title, losing 1-0 to No. 2 seed Trumbull in the championship game.
Still, the team enters the CIAC Class LL tournament as the No. 2 seed and will take on the winner of the McMahon-Stamford qualifying game in the opening round Monday at home.
While Ottavio thought he had a good team heading into the season, running the table in the FCIAC, being voted No. 1 and getting a top-4 seed in the Class LL tournament, surprised him.
“I look at where we are in the CIAC tournament and I can’t believe we are where we are,” Ottavio said. “If you asked me before the year if we’d be where we are in the Class LL standings, I wouldn’t believe it because our league is riddled with talent. We have just been putting ourselves in the right position. Fortune favors the prepared.”
The school, either in its present form as Fairfield Warde or its previous incarnation as Andrew Warde has never won a state boys soccer championship.
In 2000, Fairfield High lost in the Class LL championship game to Guilford.
The Class LL field is loaded as usual but this Warde teams feels it has what it takes to make a deep run.