1981: UNDEFEATED – BUT A SHARED CROWN
• The brief tryout announcement notes, "Cleats are not advised as the field is quite hard and may cause discomfort." Other problems include the loss of coach Jeff Lea’s intermediate program (budget cuts); the loss of assistant coach Dennis Murphy (to Coleytown Junior High School); the loss of three-year keeper Bob Simonton (to the University of Virginia), and the loss of three prospective starters (Andy McWhirter to Palos Verdes, California; Peter Dunlop to Roger Ludlowe, and Bandy Mahr to pursue a tennis career). In addition, the new FCIAC schedule eliminates the traditional Tuesday-Friday playing arrangement, in order to spread officiating assignments more fairly. The Wreckers will have to adapt to a more erratic rhythm. Yet with 8 returnees, and a horde of excellent juniors who have played together on Westport Soccer Association teams since 1975, the rest of the FCIAC faces worse problems. Pre-season includes scrimmage shutouts against Wilbur Cross-New Haven and Cheshire, and a workout with Guilford cut short when keeper Tom Jones receives a mild concussion.
• The Wreckers outshoot Stamford Catholic 57-3 and win 5-0 in a game the Westport News’ Dan Woog calls "even more one-sided than that." Staples schools Ridgefield by a 5-1 count. Mark Noonan (2), Jay Cook, Mike Brown and Phil Dalmage score; Brian Sullivan’s assist features a 100-yard run. The Wreckers’ controlled, discipline soccer delights the large Saturday morning hillside crowd.
• Trumbull stuns Staples with a 1-1 draw. The Golden Eagles grab the lead at 18:12, when keeper Terry Heinsley’s punt bounces to the other end and a defender shanks in an attempted back pass. Midway through the second half Noonan slams home Guy Claveloux’s feed, for his fifth goal in 4 games. The match ends with Rob Hagebak’s overtime shot clearing the crossbar by 6 inches.
• Staples outshoots Stamford 21-1, leaving them in the 3-0 dust. A 1-0 win over defense-minded Brien McMahon is accomplished when Peter Schwartz’s long throw-in glances in, off either Mike Moses or a defender (Staples’ version), or without touching anyone at all (McMahon’s claim). The videotape is inconclusive, but the referee’s call counts.
• Coach Jeff Lea uses every player 2 games in a row; 5 straight shutouts lead to the Norwalk match. Not only can this avenge the previous year’s state tournament penalty kick loss; both teams lead their divisions at 8-0-1. The first half features high-level soccer by both sides. In the 52nd minute Dan Donovan tallies, but the Bears equalize 7 minutes later on a fine shot by Lefty Kydes. The Wreckers storm on the offensive. Defender Guy Claveloux – who might have started the previous year, had he not broken his leg in soccer camp – is a terror all over the field. Less than 10 minutes remain when the keeper punches Chris Kranick’s direct kick to Sullivan on the right side. From an impossible angle, he powers the ball into the net. From then on Claveloux, Scott Zucker, Peter Schwartz and Bruce Kinnaman swarm around any Bear near Jones’ goal.
• A 3-0 win over Greenwich is tempered by the loss of Sullivan (severe ankle injury) and Kranick (a more moderate one). Moses ends his scoring slump, scoring twice in the 4-0 Rippowam win. The Danbury game is postponed 4 days by bad weather, then fails to live up to anticipation. The Wreckers outshoot their 10-0-3 hosts 17-4. Claveloux stops 25-goal scorer Fotis Stavrianidis dead; Schwartz and Zucker do the same to Jose Farinha and Fernando Cruz. But the game is scoreless until, with 13 minutes to go, Lea moves Cook from the left side to the right. Within seconds Dalmage finds him. Cook controls, turns and fires through the keeper’s outstretched fingers. Jones saves the match with a punch save with 6 minutes left.
• Undefeated for the second time in 3 years, the fitter Wreckers take their fifth straight FCIAC crown, beating Danbury with a carbon copy of their earlier win. The Hatters manage only 2 shots per half at Stamford’s Cubeta Stadium. Staples gets the 1 they need at 60:13. Kranick heads Schwartz’s long throw past 2 defenders; Moses bangs it in, for his fourth goal in 4 games. Claveloux, the spindly-legged junior, once again marks Stavrianidis out of the game. When Danbury keeper Roy Martens is named Most Valuable Player, the Wreckers and their fans are incredulous.
• Lea warns his second-ranked squad against overconfidence. The team responds with 3 goals in the first 10 minutes, pacing a 4-1 win over Xavier-Middletown. Dalmage (2), Kranick and Donovan tally. It is only the third year for Xavier’s soccer program. One player walks into the locker room of Staples’ brand-new fieldhouse, draws in his breath and says, "This is the big time."
• Next is a quarterfinal against Norwalk. One year and 6 days after the Bears won on penalty kicks, the Wreckers roll to a 3-1 decision at New Canaan’s Connor Field. Moses finishes a half-field gallop with a score just 3:43 in, and Norwalk folds. Coach Dumitru Oltean inexplicably drops dangerous scorer Mickey Kydes back to midfield. Noonan, Brown, Cook and Claveloux mark him well; Lea says, "He didn’t like any one of them." After two violent fouls against Noonan, he is ejected.
• Late in the first half, Noonan lofts a direct kick 35 yards from goal. Claveloux, defender Nico Papadopoulos and the ball all converge. Claveloux never flinches. Raising his body high, he rears back and heads the ball – and Papadopoulos’ head. The ball flies into the net, and both players leave for Norwalk Hospital. The Wreckers, inspired, tack on another goal from Moses.
• After overpowering highly respected E.O. Smith-Storrs 2-0, on rockets by Moses and Dalmage, 17-0-1 Staples prepares for 16-0-1 Simsbury, the only team ahead of them in the LL rankings. The Trojans ride 3 straight tourney shutouts, and their midfield is said to be as strong as the Wreckers’. The match is set for Sunday, Nov. 22, at North Haven’s Sachem Field.
• It is completely one-sided – but also a draw. Staples nearly draws first blood, on an electrifying play. Kinnaman – who goes on to earn Most Valuable Player honors for the match – sends a through ball to Noonan. Cook, cruising up the left wing, takes Noonan’s pass in stride, with a good angle on goal. His shot caroms off the far post, and rolls directly across the line. It is crossing the chalk when keeper Kevin Gallagher sprawls desperately to save.
• But sweeper Tim Croft is in fine form too, and thwarts the Westporters. Finally, in the 66th minute, Brown’s corner kick fools Gallagher. He is out of position when Moses jumps high to head the ball solidly down and in. The Wreckers go for the jugular.
• Suddenly, with just 6:46 to play, a ball outside the penalty area eludes all 3 defenders. It squibs out to Karl Anderson in front of the net. Simsbury draws level.
• Staples returns to work. Cook and Moses fire solid shots in the final 90 seconds. The 2 10-minute overtimes are all Staples. But, as is the case all day, they cannot finish the great chances they create. The game ends deadlocked. The Wreckers are devastated; the Trojans, gleeful. The memorable squad, which ties the ’72 mark of most wins in a season (18), brings to mind the ’63 and ’70 teams. They too finished superb years in the unsatisfying, yet wonderful, position of co-state champs.
• Prior to the semifinals, the combined record of Simsbury, Staples, Wethersfield and E.O. Smith is 61-1-4.
• John Woolley and Miguel Almeida are brought up from the junior varsity for the state tournament — and see action in the finals.
•Juniors Claveloux, Noonan and Moses are chosen for the All-FCIAC first team; seniors Donovan and Sullivan make the second squad. Lea calls center midfielder Kranick – overlooked in balloting by many coaches – "perhaps the best player in the league."
• Former Wrecker Rich Farquhar leads Ohio Wesleyan University to the NCAA Division III finals, and is the team’s leading scorer (13 goals, 5 assists).
• For the first time in 1981, FCIAC varsity and junior varsity teams play in the same town on the same day. Previously, when a varsity team was home, the jayvees traveled.
CO-CAPTAINS: Dan Donovan, Chris Kranick
COACH: Jeff Lea
1982: ‘THE KING AIN’T DEAD!’
• The Wreckers – loaded with returnees and ready to capture a non-shared state crown — tie E.O. Smith-Storrs 1-1 in their only pre-season scrimmage, at Greens Farms Academy. They hit the regular season running, at Ridgefield, surging to a 3-0 lead. Mark Bieler rebounds in his own shot off a corner kick by Bandy Mahr (back from his tennis career); two minutes later Mahr connects off Mike Brown’s cross. In the 25th minute Mark Noonan smashes in his own direct kick, after blasting it off the defensive wall.
• But seemingly invincible Staples allows the Tigers to claw back. Before halftime ex-Westporter Guy Welton knocks in an indirect kick; then Ridgefield siezes on an errant back pass. Three minutes later Welton ties it 3-3 – and that score remains, through regulation play and 2 5-minute overtimes. The next day, minus Noonan (concussion), Jay Cook (strained ligaments) and Chris Myers (brother’s wedding), they end their Rippowam series (the school will close in June) with a 2-0 win. Sophomore Mike Clifford nets his first varsity goal; Bieler adds another.
• It takes overtime and a few shifts by coach Jeff Lea — moving center striker Mike Moses back to sweeper, shifting Noonan up from sweeper to wing midfielder, sending Brown from central midfield to outside – to top a solid Brien McMahon side in overtime. Guy Claveloux bangs a ball that bounces high on the Senators’ baseball infield; Noonan roars through to smack it in. An 8-0 laugher over Stamford Catholic sees the starters run laps on the track in the second half. Needing a win, the Wreckers wallop second-place Wilton 6-0 (and outshoot them 32-2). Hard-to-please Dennis Murphy says, "Staples gave a clinic." The Ridgefield players on the Staples hill are impressed.
• Four days later, though, 2-3 Roger Ludlowe has the Wreckers dead even, 2-2, with 10 minutes to play. But a pair of goals by Noonan (who earlier connected on a penalty kick) secure the 4-2 win. Other keys to victory are Moses, with several key saves at sweeper before moving up to jump-start the offense, and Brown, who plays the second half in overdrive.
• Three days later, despite leading in shots 26-1 and corner kicks 8-0, the Wreckers manage only a 1-1 home tie against Darien. Bieler’s early score is negated by a free kick chip, as well as the loss of Clavleoux (foot injury), Mahr (facial cut) and Rich Ross (previous injury), and curiously lackluster play. Hopes for a 22nd consecutive division championship dim.
• The on-again-off-again saga continues with a 4-0 pasting of New Canaan, and – the next day – a 1-0 squeaker at 1-6-2 Westhill. Noonan’s curving, dipping direct kick strike with 70 seconds left secures victory. Long-time observers note the intensity with which every opponent plays (many seeking only a tie) – and the lack of consistent scoring. In their next match the Westporters eke out a 1-0 home win over potent Danbury, despite comfortable edges in shots (28-2) and corner kicks (10-2). The game-winner comes when Noonan draws 2 defenders out, then left-foots the keeper.
• Two days later Danbury upsets Ridgefield 3-2, opening the door for Staples to snag the Eastern Division crown. All it takes is wins in the final 4 games. But the Wreckers run into, not through, the door. A home match with Trumbull features excellent shutout defense by Moses, Claveloux, Myers, Rob Stone and Miguel Almeida, 37 shots – and 0 goals. In the final 20 minutes of regulation time Brown’s blast is punched over the top, Clifford rifles 2 in a row, and Moses and Myers launch bullets; in extra time Phil Dalmage sees 3 shots miss by a combined 6 inches. The 0-0 score stands.
• Lea’s 4-4-2 setup creates more scoring oomph, and Andrew Warde and Norwalk fall 6-0 and 3-1, respectively. But Ridgefield smothers McMahon 5-0, and the Wreckers fail for the first time in history to reach the FCIAC championship. Though at 10-0-3 they have not lost all year, and 11-1-1 Ridgefield has – and the 2 teams tied in their opening match – the Tigers get the nod. The tie-breaker is points within the division; Staples is 4-0-3, Ridgefield 6-0-1. Despite their disappointment, the Wreckers enter the state tournament playing well. And with Oakland Mills, Maryland’s 42-game unbeaten streak snapped earlier in the fall, Staples’ span of 35 matches without a loss appears to be the longest in the nation.
• The fourth-ranked Wreckers lay waste to 13th-rated Smith – a class M school playing up 2 divisions because it is the toughest – by far more than the 2-0 score shows. Moses converts two corner kicks (straight from the previous day’s practice), and a swarming defense keys the win. Wing midfielder Noonan picks apart the Panthers, while Dalmage creates havoc up front. The victory gives Staples a fourth straight undefeated season at home.
• Dalmage’s hat trick sparks the Westporters over Hall-West Hartford, 5-0 at windy Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury. For the second straight time the winners break down their foes in the first half, then move in for the kill in the second. Noonan smashes a shot off the crossbar for Dalmage to finish. The duo combines on the second goal; Dalmage gets number 3 off Clifford’s baseline feed. Noonan and Clifford close out the scoring.
• Next is eighth-ranked Glastonbury, fresh off a 1-0 upset of top-seeded Manchester. Back at Nonnewaug, the Wreckers blaze to their third straight shutout. It takes only 15 minutes for coach Ken Mehler to substitute 5 starters. "They need oxygen," a sideline wit quips. Despite Staples’ speed, eagerness to take men on and solid crosses, it takes 45 minutes to score. Noonan’s grass-cutter is almost in when the keeper dives to tip it away. But Dalmage, racing to follow the shot, raps the ball sharply into the open net. Wrecker keeper Rob Sweetnam smothers a blast off the ensuing kickoff, and the Tomahawks do not get back in the game. The insurance tally comes 11 minutes later, after a flagrant foul (Glastonbury earns 5 yellow cards in the match). Moses powers a 40-yard direct kick. Cook, waiting patiently in the box, half-volleys a shot from left to right that no high school keeper could touch.
• The Wreckers enter the final against a foe they’ve wanted since opening day: Ridgefield. A crowd 5 deep lines New Canaan’s Connor Field on Saturday morning, Nov. 20. The match is as good as anticipated. The Wreckers show skill, strength, speed and stamina; the gritty, quick-countering Tigers are used to coming from behind. Ridgefield shows only 2 strikers, an indication they seek a 0-0 draw – or a breakaway from 37-goal scorer Welton. Strikers Noonan, Dalmage, Bieler and Clifford track back often; midfielders Brown, Cook, Mahr, Almeida and Todd Coleman neutralize dangerous Tiger Dave Cole. Stopper Claveloux, whom Lea calls the state’s best man-to-man marker ever, owns Welton. Defenders Stone, Myers and Moses protect Sweetnam ruthlessly.
• But Noonan, limping with a deep thigh bruise, has just spent 2 days in bed with the flu. And barely 12 minutes into the match, Brown goes down with a knee injury. Almeida fills in expertly, and when Brown returns with 20 minutes remaining the pace is elevated even higher. It seems only a matter of time before Staples scores.
• Yet time passes. Finally, with 7 minutes to go, Ridgefield clears long. Moses immediately sends the ball back to Tiger territory. Noonan, on the right, one-times it to Brown in the center. He passes off to Clifford on the left, who alertly switches flow with a long cross to the far side of the box. Dalmage, a playoff scoring machine, flags the pass down, and shoots well to the far post. It appears to be in – until sweeper Clif Onalfo sticks a foot out, and clears off the line.
• A Wrecker 20 yards out reaches to control the clearing pass, but misses. The ball skitters to midfield, where wing defender Stone runs on as the ball pops into open space. His instep strikes it dead-on. The ball rises to the goal, 40 yards away – and rises and rises, gaining height and velocity. At just the right moment it dips underneath the crossbar.
• Keeper Tom Austin lunges futilely, but the ball has already smashed into the back netting. It falls to the ground behind him. He looks up in time to see delirious Wreckers smothering Stone, who has just scored the first goal of his varsity career – in his final game.
• But the game is not over. For 2 minutes the Tigers launch their most serious offensive flurry of the cold, gray day. Staples’ defense – aided by midfielder Cook, who clears a shot off the line – holds. For the final 4 minutes the Wreckers are once again in command. The jubilant scene is repeated moments later. The first Staples team to not win its division title is, more importantly, the 10th state champion in 19 years.
• Stone did "score" in the state tournament quarterfinal penalty kick loss to Norwalk 2 years earlier.
• After being edged out for the Eastern Division crown, the Norwalk Hour headlined: "The King is Dead!" Notes one Wrecker after the finals: "The King just took a nap."
• Ridgefield shows up with cheeerleaders, a mascot and band, but the musicians are silenced by a state tournament rule. Staples band director Tom Alberts takes his horn from his car and plays a fight song before the match, to get even. At halftime, Wrecker fans and girls varsity players stage their own cheers. Lea’s take: "I’ve never seen a band score a goal."
• For sheer emotional impact, Stone’s goal ranks with Gordon Hull’s game winner in the state finals against Greenwich with 11 seconds to play. It occurred four years earlier, to the day — at the very same Connor Field.
• Claveloux, Moses and Noonan repeat as first-team All-FCIAC picks; Brown makes it for the first time.
• Because the Wreckers do not win their division, Staples basketball and baseball coach Brian Kelley – who officiated an NCAA Division I championship game – finally whistles an FCIAC final.
• Bill Forehand is the junior varsity coach. Middlebury College senior Mike Noonan is drafted by the professional Memphis Americans. Former keeper Tom Jones, a senior at Merrimack College, scores a goal in each of the first 2 college matches he plays.
CO-CAPTAINS: Guy Claveloux, Mark Noonan
COACH: Jeff Lea
1983: RIDGEFIELD GAINS REVENGE
• The seniors are glad to finally leave the shadow of the players before them; they aim to prove themselves worthy Staples soccer players. Neither a 4-team jamboree at Bethel nor a scrimmage at Greenwich produces a set lineup. Still, the Wreckers slip 3 goals past Norwalk in the opener. Mike Clifford converts Mike Smith’s through ball; Clifford returns the favor on Smith’s goal, and Todd Coleman bangs home a rebound when Clifford’s shot caroms off keeper Ted Cenatiempo.
• After topping Stamford 4-1, they fall 1-0 in a state final rematch to Ridgefield. The better team wins this day, and when Dan Dardenne scores 17:45 from time, the Wreckers’ 41-game unbeaten streak is over. A first-ever match against New Rochelle (N.Y.) High at home 4 days later results in Staples’ second loss. Clifford’s penalty kick halves the difference to 2-1, but the Huguenots – who replace now-defunct Rippowam — remain undefeated. The Wreckers’ longest (2-game) losing streak since 1976 ends when Will Smith wins a tackle against Brien McMahon and feeds an overlapping Tom Wilder for the sophomore defender’s first varsity score. Coleman scored earlier in the 2-1 win.
• Greenwich is eager to defeat Staples for the first time since 1976, and with 4 Wreckers (3 of them starters) sitting for disciplinary reasons, the time seems ripe. But the players who take their place – Tom Johnson, Rich McCann, Antonio Pastor (until he is knocked unconscious), and reserves Warren Bird, Kenny Schwartz, Jay Zambelli, Greg Prybylski and Jon Cox – more than take up the slack. An overtime goal, from sophomore Jono Sollinger to Clifford to Coleman to Jay Zambelli back to Sollinger’s head, give the gutsy Westporters the victory – despite being out-fouled 38-11, out-yellow carded 2-0, and out-ejectioned 1-0.
• For the second time in 48 hours, still missing their 4 disciplined players, the Wreckers eke out a 1-0 win, this time over Wilton. Clifford heads in Bird’s English-style cross, while defenders Rob Wilder, Tom Wilder, Micu Oprea and Kenny Schwartz, plus keeper Andrew Cornish, repel game-long pressure. Darien stuns Staples with a goal 2 minutes in, gets another after Clifford draws his side even, then clogs the goal and holds on for a 2-1 upset. Sweetnam’s neck injury on the Blue Wave’s first tally is one more reason for gloom.
• But Bird’s banana ball, and excellent defense keyed by stopper Oprea, lead them past a strong New Canaan squad 1-0. Despite Danbury’s sodden, slippery field, that match is a great one. It ends with the Westporters the first team all year to blemish the Hatters’ perfect record. They hold their hosts’ vaunted offense (49 goals in 11 games) to a 0-0 draw. The Wilder brothers, Oprea and Pastor shut down Tony Corte-Real and company; Smith, Coleman, Bird, Clifford, Tim Nicholson and Eric Strausser tackle hard, and Cornish and keeper counterpart Tom Maupin turn in nearly error-free games. Ridgefield ties Darien 1-1, and hangs on to win the divisional championship. For the second year in a row, the Wreckers attend the title game as spectators.
• Ranked eighth, they open their LL defense with a 4-0 home win over ninth-rated West Haven. Goals by Bird, Clifford (penalty kick), Smith (on a kick save by the keeper that caroms off Smith’s jaw) and Rich Horosky vault them into the quarterfinals against – Ridgefield.
• The rematch is held just 3 miles from Staples, at Greens Farms Academy. Following a Friday night team dinner and Saturday morning breakfast, the Westporters hope to feast on Tiger meat. They almost do. They lead in shots 18-10, corner kicks 5-4, and ball possession. But Ridgefield puts the only goal into the net, in the fifth minute. Clif Onalfo’s direct kick is headed out by sweeper Rob Wilder, but the Tigers keep the ball in play. Onalfo cuts a pass backward across the box to an unmarked Dardenne. He takes one touch, then fires.
• The Wreckers play intense catch-up for 76 minutes. They solve their marking problems against Ridgefield’s 4-4-2, but cannot score. Nicholson has his finest hour at midfield, while Horosky – regaining form after several injuries – is a valuable distributor. The Tigers retreat, and after dodging a bullet (keeper John Paquin shovels Clifford’s header over the top), hold on for dear life. As Staples presses the attack Ridgefield coach Al Diniz yells to Onalfo, "Don’t panic!" But when Clifford leaves after injuring his ankle with 12 minutes to go, Staples’ poise suffers. The equalizer never comes.
• Horosky takes a hard shot to the knee, but plays to the end. Lea takes him to Norwalk Hospital. The next day he is operated on for a cracked kneecap.
• Oprea and Clifford gain All-FCIAC first team honors; Nicholson is voted to the second team.
• Other team members not mentioned include Steve Brown, Packy Cramer, Sam Crocket, Jeff Dyment, Donny Gordon, Mark Lefkowitz, Tim Purcell and Graham Stumpf.
• Stuart McCarthy serves as junior varsity coach. Dan Woog becomes the first freshman coach when ninth graders enter Staples in September. In the inaugural freshman game, Adam Veith and Alex Wouters score in a win over Broadview-Danbury.
• Girls soccer becomes an official varsity sport. Jack Finn coaches; the first tri-captains are Amy Farquhar, Karin Volckmann and Martha Erickson.
CAPTAIN: Todd Coleman
COACH: Jeff Lea
1984: A RETURN TO THE FCIAC’S
• Confident with the return of 6 varsity players, and bolstered by a 2-0 pre-season victory over Central at Bridgeport’s Kennedy Stadium, the Wreckers have 1 more reason to expect a shot at the FCIAC crown, following an unprecedented 2-year hiatus. This year, for the first time, the top two finishers in the Eastern and Western Divisions qualify for a semifinal game.
• Mike Clifford, who drew raves during the summer at Eastern Regional camp before an injury prevented selection to the national camp in Colorado, scores twice in the season-opening shutout over Greenwich. Warren Bieler assists both. After fattening up with 20 goals against weak Trumbull, Roger Ludlowe and Stamford sides – allowing 0 in the process—the Wreckers face their first true test: Wilton. They roll to their fifth straight shutout in surprisingly easy fashion, holding the Warriors to 0 shots on goal. Tim Purcell and Clifford score.
• But Staples stumbles against visiting Norwalk. The Bears break on top 2-0, before Jono Sollinger halves the margin. In the second half Norwalk retreats, facing a relentless Wrecker barrage and a strong wind, but the loss slides Staples into second place behind surging New Canaan.
• Keeper Andrew Cornish and Brien McMahon counterpart Ricky King (son of coach Ralph) have great games. Senator defenders clear the ball constantly, banging past midfield for offensive chances. Clifford is blanketed by Rodrigo Guzman; at the other end, defenders Kenny Schwartz and Jay Zambelli do yeomen’s work. But the Wreckers snag a 1-0 victory, 90 seconds from the end of the final overtime. Sollinger chips an indirect free kick over the wall from 30 yards. Bieler and Purcell jump, surrounded by defenders. The ball brushes off and lands in a pile of players 6 yards from goal. Will Boudreau, a reserve midfielder who caught coach Jeff Lea’s eye with his aggressive play earlier in the day, gets a foot on it. Incredibly, the Senators nearly retaliate seconds later when King – the goalie – goes forward with his whole team and shoots just wide of the net.
• Ridgefield, nipping at Staples’ heels in the standings, battles the Wreckers to a 0-0 draw. Cornish, Schwartz (marking Dan Dardenne) and Zambelli (tailing Dan Haugh and Marc Edwards) save the game in back. Tom Wilder and Mike Smith dominate the middle, while Sollinger (marking Clif Onalfo), Purcell, Tim Nicholson and Rich McCann own midfield. Lea says, "I’m the happiest I’ve ever been after a tie. Everyone who played, played brilliant ball."
• Though New Canaan has surrendered just 1 goal all year (in a 2-1 win over Ridgefield), and though they are big, strong and well-skilled, Staples is hungrier. The Wreckers roar back from a 2-0 halftime deficit to tie, on a pair of vintage Clifford goals. The first comes at 62:23 from Zambelli. The second 10 minutes later, begins with a direct kick that Sollinger plays like a corner. Clifford roars by the far post to drive a header home. Staples outshoots the Rams 13-2 in the second half and 4-0 in overtime, but the match ends 2-2. The Wreckers remain in second place.
• All 29 players see at least 25 minutes of action in the 8-1 rout of Andrew Warde. Needing at least a tie against Danbury, Staples gets it 1-1. They outplay the 11-0-2 Hatters for much of the match. Clifford rockets a shot in the first half; midway through the second Danbury comes alive. Jorge Baptista’s 69th minute first-time goal rocks the Wreckers. They finally regain control late in the match.
• Second in the Eastern Division, Staples plays Western winner Danbury exactly 1 week after their first encounter. Again the Wreckers score in the first 15 minutes – Clifford outraces everyone before pushing the ball past the hesitant keeper) – and only a fingertip save halts Purcell’s fine turnaround blast. Then the tide turns. Just 2:12 before intermission an inadvertent touch by a defender on a long shot redirects the ball to Joe Mingachos’ foot. The striker converts his open 10-yard shot; Danbury enters halftime psyched.
• The Hatters hit paydirt 7:36 into the second half; once again Mingachos is in the right place at the right time. Danbury presses, and for the rest of the game the Wreckers manage only 2 weak shots. Lea is philosophical: "We didn’t have a championship game. That’s why we’re not going to the championship."
• For the second straight year Staples draws West Haven. Once again the Wreckers score 4 times; they might have had more, but with 10:20 remaining and the hosts in control, referees Phil Liebrock and Bob Grant halt the match. They had just ejected the second Blue Devil (he intentionally fouled, then struck Boudreau). It is Liebrock’s first termination in over 20 years as an official. Bieler, Bob Handelman and Clifford (2) score.
• The quarterfinal, against second-seeded, 14-0-2 Manchester, is much cleaner. The result is quite different, too. Clifford has 2 excellent shots in the opening 2 minutes, but only 1 – from Schwartz’s long throw to Bieler, after which Clifford shreds the defense — goes in. If the other – a flick off the post — does, the Indians might not rally.
• But they are big, strong, fast, and with an ever-increasing second half wind they outshoot Staples 12-0 after intermission to win 2-1. The Wreckers have other early chances – Handelman’s corner kick is headed away; 30 seconds later Clifford’s cross is parried out of danger by keeper Jeff Thrall – but they also fail to rush in when Thrall slips fielding a back pass, leaving an open net. The second half is all Manchester, as they bottle up Staples for 40 minutes. The winning goal does not come until 5 minutes from time, when Steve Logan converts a bouncing ball in the goalmouth. It ends a fine season for a hard-working, motivated, enthusiastic and talented Wrecker squad.
• Clifford, Smith and Sollinger are named to the All-FCIAC squad. Cornish and Nicholson earn honorable mention.
• Clifford and Clif Onalfo (Ridgefield) travel to Mexico over Christmas vacation with the U.S. Youth Soccer Association Region I team.
• The 0-0 regular season draw with Ridgefield is sweet revenge for several seniors who, as sixth graders playing on a U-12 travel team, lost 16-1 to Ridgefield.
• Former player Brian Conroy serves as junior varsity coach.
• Other players not previously mentioned include Ronnie Baron, Steven Brown, Jud Cook, Jon Cox, Packy Cramer, Sam Crocket, Mike Cusa, Tim Dillingham, Jon Fox, Brian Fuchs, Donny Gordon, Mark Lefkowitz, Peter Mezei, Billy Murphy, Dan Pifer, Joe Roth, Brian Shea and Kent Thomas.
CAPTAIN: Tim Nicholson
COACH: Jeff Lea
1985: HARD, HARD LUCK
• No Staples player was in high school in 1982, the last time the Wreckers beat Danbury. That’s the opening-day opponent, on the Hatters’ always-muddy field. A flu bug batters 9 players; 2 are too ill to suit up. But the Westporters beat the defending FCIAC champs 4-3, in a match less close than the score indicates. Danbury’s final 2 tallies come in the last 2 minutes, and the winners lead in all statistical categories. Jono Sollinger nets the first goal at 3:07, stinging a hard shot off the keeper’s chest. Five minutes later Warren Bieler touches in Jon Fox’s shanked shot. Bieler continues his alert play 12 minutes later, intercepting a weak back pass and deking the goalie. Will Boudreau gets the fourth tally, off a through ball from Donny Gordon. Coach Jeff Lea praises sophomore Jem Sollinger, who plays 5 different positions; Fox’s defense; Tom Buoy’s offense, and keeper Scott Zucker’s tip saves.
• Jem Sollinger’s assist on Bieler’s goal produces a 1-0 shutout over a solid Greenwich side. But winless Roger Ludlowe grabs the first half lead with 2 goals less than a minute apart, then fights to a 3-1 advantage with 35 minutes to play. Ninety seconds later Gordon slams in Jem Sollinger’s corner kick, slicing the margin to 1. Finally, a minute from time, Gordon sneaks a shot in on the near side, past a swarm of defenders. Staples reaches overtime, avoiding a first-ever loss to the Flying Tigers. In OT Bieler crunches a goal to the lower right. Then, with 23 seconds remaining, Gordon blast-heads Jem Sollinger’s corner. But the Tigers stun their hosts with a direct kick goal in the final seconds. Lea and assistant coach (and former player) Rich Hiltz fume.
• Ominous clouds portend the arrival of Hurricane Gloria at Rippowam, where Stamford plays home matches, and the Wreckers erase the bad taste of Ludlowe by subduing the Black Knights 3-1. They dispose of a solid Wilton squad 4-0 with intensity. Goals in the first 3 minutes of each half by Bieler and Boudreau help; so do scores by Andy Udell and Bruce Schulman.
• Norwalk is off to its best start in 19 years. On Saturday morning, Oct. 5 their field is a quagmire; their skillful players cannot dance with the ball, and star Lefty Petrides is academically ineligible. But Staples starters Bieler, Fox and Kent Thomas are ailing, and a first half goal by Roberto Malozzi hands the Wreckers their first loss of the year.
• Staples and defending state champion Ridgefield battle to a 0-0 draw, and things get interesting. It is the fourth straight time the Wreckers fail to score on the Tigers. Staples and New Canaan are locked in first place with 9-1-1 records; Ridgefield trails at 8-2-1. But the Wreckers promptly tie 3-6-2 Darien 0-0, extending to over 180 minutes a streak in which they play strong, even overpowering, soccer, yet cannot score.
• An unheard-of third straight 0-0 tie follows, this one with first-place New Canaan. There are great opportunities. Bieler hits the inside post; Gordon connects on the rebound but a defender heads the shot off the line. Next, overlapping Tom Wilder takes Jem Sollinger’s through ball and feeds Bieler, who races to goal – only to meet keeper Matt Farrelly’s tremendous one-hand stop. Finally, Jono Sollinger touches an indirect kick from 7 yards out to Bieler; he hits the underside of the crossbar. The ball bounces down and out, and is finally cleared. To their credit the Rams, needing only a tie to sew up an FCIAC playoff slot, attack too. But defenders Wilder, Fox (who breaks his nose near the end), Thomas (who injures his shin) and Ronnie Barron play outstandingly, and Zucker makes numerous big stops. Yet the man of the match is Jem Sollinger, the small sophomore who owns midfield. Still, that is not enough to earn the Wreckers – who finish 10-1-3 – an FCIAC slot.
• Ranked eighth, Staples draws #25, 7-7 Westhill – the first time Staples ever plays a playdown match. There are 27 teams in the LL tournament, up from 19 the previous year. A 13-day layoff after the regular season, due to no FCIAC playoff matches, bad luck (a scrimmage with North Haven is canceled) and bad weather makes the Wreckers stale at the start. But they draw first blood 6 minutes in when Jono Sollinger slices a wicked shot to the near post. Westhill equalizes 2:10 later, when Nick Bakes scores after a casual 30-yard jaunt. It is the first goal against Staples in 463 minutes — and 19 minutes later they get another. This time Harry Seitaridis shreds the defense. Suddenly the Wreckers look vulnerable.
• But the second half, and sudden death overtime, are different. Staples levels in the 64th minute. Boudreau controls a difficult ball out of the air and hits Beiler, whose well-timed cross finds unmarked Gordon waiting patiently 10 yards from net. He arches, jumps and power-heads into the upper right corner.
• Pressing the attack, the Wreckers get the winner in the first of two sudden-death OTs. Boudreau aims a corner kick at a cluster of teammates on the far post. Bieler finds it, leaping high to skim a header in off the upright. The ensuing celebration is well-deserved.
• Two days later, also at Staples, the scene is reversed. Though Staples does everything right against 24th-ranked, 9-6 Newington – out-shooting them 22-5, out-corner kicking them by a monstrous 12-1, out-passing and out-running them too – the final score is 1-0 for the upstaters. An early omen is keeper Paul Morochnik’s fingertip save on Bieler’s close-in shot. The buildup was relentless and creative, yet the Wreckers come up empty. That happens often: Buoy’s header is tipped over the top; Buoy and Bieler team up but miss by inches; Gordon’s header whistles off the crossbar.
• Coach Jeff Lea encourages his team at halftime – "It’s coming," everyone agrees – but when it comes, it belongs to Newington. Two minutes after intermission John Petrizzo blasts a 20-yard direct kick past the 7-man wall. It strikes Zucker in the solar plexus and bounces sideways. Gasping for breath, the keeper scrambles for the rebound. Paul Gamble beats a horde of players there, sticks a foot out and squibs it into the corner.
• The Wreckers regroup with vengeance. Morochnik fans on a cross – but Gordon’s follow-up side volley skips wide. Wilder’s cross to Gordon in the goalmouth is broken up at the last instant by a leaping defender. Bieler’s one-touch shot misses by half an inch. A header by Gordon is high by 2 inches. Wilder nearly scores; then another Gordon header hits the top of the bar. Two minutes later, Buoy’s header also strikes the crossbar. The crowd of several hundred cheers, groans and shrieks – and the near-misses continue. Morochnik stops Bieler twice. Finally sophomore Ty Jagerson makes a full-field, pinball-style run. He bounces off half a dozen player, but keeps the ball just until the end.
• Suddenly it is over. The Indians, who had defeated Fairfield Prep 1-0 2 days earlier in similar fashion – scoring on their only shot of the second half – leap for joy. The Wreckers slump in disbelief at the devastating end. But they have accomplished much as a team. Asked to single out players for special praise, Lea says simply: "You want 11 names?"
• Jono Sollinger, Wilder and Bieler are named to the All-FCIAC team.
• Greenwich forfeits 11 matches after using an overage player. Staples’ 1-0 win is not affected, but because the Cardinals have already upset New Canaan 2-1 in the FCIAC semifinals the Rams receive a forfeit victory, then meet (and lose to) Ridgefield in the finals. However, Brien McMahon becomes FCIAC Western Division champion – without getting to play in the FCIAC tournament. Earlier in the season, Westhill forfeits 3 games for using a player who transferred illegally from another Stamford school.
• In 1984, popular red-headed reserve striker Joe Roth scored his only goal of the year in the final regular season game, against Andrew Warde, 6 seconds from the end – on his birthday. This year he nearly repeats the feat, the day before his birthday. But, as happens often this season, his shot sails wide by inches.
• The Wreckers meet Darien for the first time on their new, wide field – a great relief after so many years at narrow Mather Junior High School.
• CoachMark Johnson’s junior varsity ends up 12-2, while Dan Woog’s freshmen finish 11-2.
• Buoy lost 20 pounds over the summer; his fitness proves important to Staples’ success.
• Soccer America magazine calls Duke University’s Mike Clifford "one of the top freshmen in the nation."
• Other players not previously mentioned include Dave Center, Jud Cook, Tim Dillingham, David Dowie, Doug Dryburgh, Brian Fuchs, Bill Mann, Rich McCann, Kim Obermeyer, Cary Pierce, Dan Pifer, Andy Reichgut, Peter Sheinbaum, Scott Simonton and Bill Weissman.
CO-CAPTAINS: Jono Sollinger, Tom Wilder
COACH: Jeff Lea