2013-2014

2013: ‘HEAD’-ING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

The 2013 pre-season opens with a 5-0 victory over Fairfield Prep, a battle-back-twice 2-2 draw with Wethersfield, and a lackluster 2-0 loss to Newtown. But the Wreckers avenge last year’s defeat to Choate by a 3-0 margin, then close out pre-season with a 1-1-1 record at the Wethersfield jamboree.

Staples does it – and enters the season – without Jordan McNair. The junior sparkplug elects to play with the Beachside academy team, the 1st Wrecker to join the new program.

Regular season

Live tweeter is a new position for Staples soccer. Ben Cion’s clever work draws a large crowd to the Loeffler Field home opener against Danbury. Foster Goldberg starts at right back in place of Connor Weiler (illness), but quickly hurts his knee. The senior is out for at least a month. It is a harbinger of things to come all year. Sophomore Joe Pravder nets the 1st goal; defender Andrew Puchala slams in the 2nd, off a corner kick, as the home side opens with a 2-0 victory.

New Canaan’s high grass is no problem for Staples. But a collision between co-captain Jack Scott and Ram captain Alex Robey is. Scott suffers a concussion, and will be gone for a while. A 50th-minute goal – Charlie Leonard’s patient cross into the goalmouth is headed home hard by Yousef Shahin – secures that win.

High grass at Harding’s Hedges Field is a problem. So are the Presidents. Playing with conviction, they draw 1st blood, in the 29th minute. But the visitors go ahead, as Michael Reid heads in Steven Sobel’s long throw and Shahin converts a penalty kick. The equalizer comes on a high, bouncing ball. Both teams press for victory – and Harding gets it, catching Staples on a counter with just 2 minutes to play. In 21 years in the FCIAC, it is just their 2nd victory over the Wreckers. The 1st came in 1997.

An intense training session prepares the stunned Stapleites for Ridgefield – with Greenwich, a consensus choice to win FCIACs. But unmarked Adam Findlay stakes the visiting Tigers to an early lead. Staples claws back, and 2 minutes before halftime co-captain Diego Alanis laces in Pravder’s corner.

In the 47th minute George Kokkalis creates chaos in the box on another corner. For the 2nd match in a row, the blue-and-whites have come from behind. But a fingertip save by keeper Noah Schwaeber redirects the ball to the foot of another unmarked striker, whose easy tap-in allows a 2nd straight 2nd-half equalizer. A fine save denies Alanis in the final minute.

Staples needs a win on Saturday afternoon at St. Joseph. But they must get it without Scott, Goldberg, Shahin (ill) and Gabe Pensak (concussion). The Cadets field one of their best teams in years, on their narrow field.

Kenji Goto starts in back – the sophomore’s 1st varsity minutes ever. Junior Nate Argosh gets his 1st start too, up top. The gritty, windy 1st half ends scoreless.

But Sobel’s long throw leads to a goal by Puchala. Sobel’s long cross is mis-struck by St. Joe’s for an own goal. The hosts halve the advantage to 2-1, but the Wreckers – with 2 key saves from Schwaeber, and fancy footwork by Andreas Bru – gut out the win.

The home match against Central starts with the same 4 starters out – and ends with a 5th. Weiler – the hard-running, tough-tackling defender – rips his hamstring, and will be out for perhaps the season. In the 59th minute Shahin skips a corner across the goalmouth. Puchala punches it in. That’s all Staples needs – but the injuries and nail-biting are not over.

Homestanding Wilton (4-1-0) has lost 2 key scorers to Beachside academy. The Wreckers (4-1-1) get Scott back, but Alanis goes out with an ankle injury. A makeshift lineup sees Leonard moving to right back – where he performs admirably – and sophomore James Lewis plugging center back in only his 2nd appearance of the year. Michael Reid shows well on both sides of the ball at central midfield.

Scott celebrates his return by pounding a 20th-minute rebound home. That’s all the scoring – but all Staples needs. After an opening 2-0 victory, they’ve now played 5 1-goal matches, and a draw.

A Saturday morning home game without 5 starters will test the Wreckers’ depth – and mentality. Midway through the season, Puchala is the only experienced defender. But Shahin, Reid, Pravder and Patrick Beusse lock down midfield against Brien McMahon. Scott heads a goal in early; 6 minutes later Puchala power-heads in Shahin’s cross. Sophomore Daniel Perez-Elorza makes it 3 header goals. Daniel Boyce’s varsity debut ends in a score – and he tacks on another. Sterling Price, Sebo Hood and James Rubin all see their 1st varsity minutes, though Rubin is injured and lost for the season. Sophomore keeper Brenden Price also comes on for the 1st time. The 1st half of the season ends with the injured, battered Westporters holding a 6-1-1 mark.

It takes Staples 30 minutes to score their 1st goal on winless Trinity Catholic’s short, narrow and bumpy field. But just 18 seconds after Scott heads in a corner, Leonard strikes from the left corner. Then Bru feeds Leonard for his 2nd tally, Bru finishes Graham Gudis’ long ball, and Bru gets his own 2nd goal.

The Norwalk match is far more compelling. With the Barbecue Club grilling on the terrace, a large crowd sees Scott drive in on goal. The ball is parried away, but Leonard crashes the box for a classic follow-up score. Both sides have chances, with Schwaeber saving several times well as Norwalk has a strong 15 minutes after intermission. With 5 minutes left Argosh delivers a great cross. Scott’s left-footed volley from the top of the box is called one of the best goals ever at Loeffler Field.

Trumbull comes to Westport holding Staples’ number. Since 2003, the Wreckers are just 1-4-6 against the Golden Eagles. The dull 1st half is quite different from the 2nd. In the 48th minute Puchala bulls forward, almost willing the ball over the goal line. Schwaeber is forced into 2 quick saves, then 2 more tough ones. But he – and probably not even Tim Howard – can save Alberto Aguillon’s bending, left-footed free kick into the upper corner that knots the score. For the 7th time in a decade, the 2 rivals tie.

Which leads to Greenwich. The Cards are soaring: 10-0-1, with 22 seniors on their big-in-both-numbers-and-size 29-man roster. A big Saturday crowd is on hand at Cardinal Stadium, for the clash against 8-1-2, #2-in-the-FCIAC Staples. They see the Wrecker defense of Puchala, Kokkalis, Lewis and Goto bend but not break.

First blood is drawn by Staples, 6 minutes after halftime. Alanis’ long free kick finds Puchala. The tall junior defender heads home a split second before keeper Santiago Irigoyen can grab it. Greenwich counters with an equally stunning goal, 2 minutes later. Both Alanis and Schwaeber are knocked to the ground, when Jon Palmer scores. Schwaeber – dazed – leaves the match with a concussion. Price comes on cold.

For the next 14 minutes, action is hot – and even. Then Alanis clears spectacularly off the line, but Ryan Flippen drills in the rebound. Three minutes later Patrick Santini – son of former WSA player Mike – makes it 3-1. The final goal, with 6 minutes to play, comes off a defensive error. Greenwich is for real.

At Darien, Puchala (muscle pull) joins Schwaeber, Weiler and Pensak on the sidelines. The 1st half is ragged, though Staples leads 1-0 on a Leonard goal. His 2nd strike gives the visitors a seemingly impregnable advantage, even as Leonard, Scott, Argosh and Perez-Elorza are denied. But while Goldberg is playing nicely in his 1st outing back, Kokkalis is out for 10 minutes after being knocked in the head (the trainer must be summoned by walkie-talkie).

With 15:35 to go, the Blue Wave snipe a goal back. Just 4 minutes later, they draw level. The action heats up, at both ends. With a minute to go, Reid’s go-ahead goal is ruled offside. The Wavers attack – and also are offside. 20 seconds remain. Price races 20 yards beyond the box to sail the free kick upfield. A mis-clear dumps the ball at Pravder’s feet. He takes one touch, finds Beusse on the right side just inside the box. The junior settles the ball, looks at the keeper – and blasts a shot into the back netting. The clock shows just 12 seconds to go. Pandemonium reigns, as Staples celebrates the junior’s 1st-ever varsity goal.

Mid-October brings 80 degrees and Fairfield Warde to Westport. Scott’s 4th-minute goal, Pravder’s gorgeous 35-yard 1-touch tally, Scott’s header and Sobel’s 25-yard, caroming-off-the-far-post rocket secure a 4-1 win.

Fairfield Ludlowe is tougher. Puchala returns after a 10-day muscle pull; Pensak is back after a long recovery from a concussion. Pravder blasts in Beusse’s rebound, but the Falcons stun Staples with a score 5 seconds before halftime. They slip ahead on a defensive lapse, and with the 2-1 victory – their 2nd in a row over Staples, after never beating them before – leapfrogs them over the Wreckers into 2nd place in the league.

Westhill must win the final regular season match – and get help from 2 other teams – to make the FCIAC tournament. Staples, now 4th, can guarantee a home game with a victory. Yet Shahin is added to the injury list, along with a reinjured Puchala. In the 29th minute Scott hits the post. Two rebounds also miss. Price – filling in for the still-injured Schwaeber – saves slick Junior Cordeiro brilliantly, keeping the 1st half scoreless.

But Cordeiro capitalizes on a 50th-minute breakaway. Staples responds well, but Alanis and others are saved. The Wreckers keep coming – but a long shot by Cordeiro is counted by the officials, though the final horn has already sounded. The Wreckers end the regular season 10-4-2 – and with a 2-game losing streak, plus their 1st shutout of the year.

FCIAC tournament

#5 Wilton comes to #4 Staples’ on a beautiful fall Saturday. An enormous crowd packs The Hill. The Wreckers are invigorated by the return of Schwaeber and Puchala. Alanis misses just high 2 minutes in. In the 5th minute, 2 saves deny the hosts. Other Staples free kicks and corner kicks are gathered in by keeper Will DeSantis.

The Warriors strike in the 25th minute, on a counterattack against the run of play. It’s Wilton’s 1st shot of the day.

Hard play intensifies. There is a scuffle just before halftime; Wilton’s Justin Shepard and Staples’ Kokkalis receive a red cards.

In the 2nd half, with 9 field players each, the game opens up. The Wreckers pile up corner kicks – 8, compared to the Warriors’ 2 – but there seems to be a force field in front of the net. With 12:42 left – again, against the run of play – Jack Brandt scores his 2nd goal. This time the culprit is a deflected clearance.

Staples fights like Warriors. But Wilton manages the clock well, attacks hard enough to create problems, and ends the Wreckers’ league title hopes with a crushing blow. It’s Staples’ 3rd loss in a row – and 2nd straight shutout.

State “LL” tournament

The Wreckers are reeling. But 48 hours after Wilton – at Monday’s training – a new attitude emerges. All 25 players commit themselves to a week of hard work. With a rejiggered lineup, they look sharp and confident in Friday’s 2-0 scrimmage win over SWC power Masuk. One key: the return of Weiler, Pensak and Puchala. The junior defender says, “I feel like I’ve parachuted into a new team.”

With Beusse and Reid assuming new roles, Scott and Shahin taking new places, Pravder nailing his midfield spot and Alanis and Leonard pressuring relentlessly, the #10 Wreckers attack early against Norwalk. Yes, Norwalk: the team that ousted them in the 2nd round of the 2012 state tourney.

Despite swarming defense and driving deep into Bear territory, the 1st half ends scoreless. Schwaeber makes his best save of the season 8 minutes after halftime: a tip over the top on a twisting ball. But – as against Wilton – keeper saves, defensive clears, and misses-by-inches keep the Wreckers off the score sheet.

Argosh, Gudis, Perez-Elorza and Sobel come off the bench, and add spark. Overtime looms. Suddenly – with less than 2 minutes to go – Pravder races onto an errant clearance. 30 yards from goal, on the side by The Hill, he launches a left-footed half-volley. The ball rises, flies over keeper Tyler Dalton’s head, and nestles firmly in the back netting.

The Wreckers fly too, into a delirious pig pile. The crowd goes berserk. Just 1:39 shows on the clock. Staples has roared back to life.

Their new life earns them a trip to Newtown. No one is talking about the pre-season loss to the Nighthawks – or previous classic state tournament encounters. The only talk is about the #7 team, playing at home on a slick surface.

The hosts control the 1st half, playing at a pace they like. Yet with Weiler, Puchala and Pensak working well defensively, there is little deep penetration. Newtown’s shots come from long range, or are rushed. Schwaeber saves several corners.

Weiler saves a ball off the line, and it seems Staples will head into halftime for a much-needed breather. But today it is their turn to score against the run of play. Alanis’ long free kick is headed sideways by Scott. The keeper tries to save, but Puchala knocks it forward. Alanis’ header hits something – a post? a player? – and Scott pounces. He bangs the loose ball home.

Staples spends halftime talking about the need to be cool, calm and in control. Newtown comes out unable to maintain their frenetic 1st-half pace. The Wreckers gain the territorial edge. The defense – including Reid and Beusse – bend, but don’t break.

Newtown never sends another man forward. The tempo is Staples’. Weiler saves off the line; Shahin tackles strongly – and then it’s over. No last-second heroics. Just a brutally fought, hard-won battle. It’s on to the quarterfinals, against 17-0-4, #2 Xavier-Middletown.

After a pair of nail-biting 1-0 victories, no one knows what to expect. The venue – Oakwood Soccer Park, Xavier’ home field (though 20 minutes from the school) – is something new, for sure. The bleachers are minimal, there is no clock, and the team benches are about 2 inches from the field. It’s an odd environment for such an important match.

And the injury bug once again bit Staples. Scott – the perpetual motion machine – injured his foot against Newtown (after scoring the game-winner). He finished that match on pure adrenaline, but does not start at Xavier. He cannot stay off, though. He comes on after 10 minutes, and though nowhere near 100%, plays the rest of the contest. His spark and speed are key.

Staples keeps the ball on the ground well. The Falcons switch sides through midfield nicely. But the newly configured back line of Weiler – in only his 3rd game back; Puchala (still not 100% after 2 injuries) and Pensak (recently returned from a concussion) — is smart and strong.

Staples squanders its few opportunities. Xavier cashes in on one of theirs, 8 minutes past halftime. A long shot by Brendan Butler from the left side caroms off the underside of the crossbar. It lands directly at the foot of Joey Zacchia. He finishes from close range.

“They’ll be coming right at you!” Xavier coach Brian Fitzgerald yells at his players – and Staples does. The Wreckers fight as fiercely as they have all year – which is a lot. But the Falcons do a great job of defending, while going forward to keep Staples honest.

The blue-and-whites have 2 golden chances in the final 10 minutes. One is set up by great work from Pravder and Shahin. The other is an excellent cross. Both times, there is no finish.

Finally, the game is over. So is the Wreckers’ season. It’s a crushing end to a year highlighted by tremendous excitement, fantastic chemistry, great camaraderie, an exciting post-season run – and the inevitable thoughts of what might have been, without 4 concussions, a brutal hamstring tear, and a host of other injuries all year long.

Quick Kicks

Once again, Staples earns National Soccer Coaches Association of America Academic All-America honors, for a team GPA average of at least 3.25….

Jack Scott is named Staples’ Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year….

Staples’ 3rd varsity keeper is freshman Ziggy Hallgarten…

Rebecca Lowe – NBC Sports’ Premier League analyst (working with Kyle Martino ’99 and Mike Carey ’01) – becomes an avid Staples soccer fan. She now lives in Westport….

Coach Seth Sholes’ junior varsity finishes the year 9-2-3. Coach Chris O’Dell’s freshmen are 12-0-0, surrendering only 3 goals all fall.

RECORD: 12-6-2
CO-CAPTAINS: Diego Alanis, Jack Scott
COACH: Dan Woog

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2014: 3 GOALS DOWN? NO PROBLEM!

Pre-season

It’s billed as Staples’ “toughest pre-season ever” – and it is. After a 2-2 draw with Fairfield Prep, the Wreckers travel north to reigning New England prep school champ South Kent. In the 1st match ever on their new field, the Cardinals – boasting Mickey Watson, who goes on to be the state Gatorade Player of the Year — score 2 excellent goals. But the final 30 minutes see Staples pressure their hosts all over the field, as the starters roar them on.

Just 48 hours later, Martin Luther King High School comes to town. They’re the New York City champs – and have been for 14 of the last 17 years. The 1st 40 minutes are even, ending 2-1 for the visitors. Two late goals give them a comfortable victory. But Staples looks well organized. The highlight of the day is a Barbecue Club cookout at Compo Beach, followed by a mix-and-match volleyball game. Head coaches Dan Woog and Martin Jacobson pledge to continue the tradition in years to come.

Keeper Noah Schwaeber comes on for the 1st time (after a broken finger) against always-tough Choate. The prepsters win 2-1. The Wreckers lose Grant Sirlin (broken nose).

Pre-season ends with the annual Wethersfield jamboree. Staples goes (as usual) 1-1-1.

Regular season

The injury-plagued pre-season is over. All projected starting players take the field in the home opener against St. Joseph. In the 19th minute, Nate Argosh megs his defender. He finds Michael Reid, whose quick turn finds fellow captain Patrick Beusse with a seeing-eye through ball. Beusse finishes calmly. Six minutes after halftime, Gabe Pensak powers a shot off the inside of the near post. Reid alertly first-times the rebound in, for a 2-0 win.

Wilton returns to Loeffler Field, 10 months after knocking Staples out of the FCIAC tournament. The Warriors continue to have the Wreckers’ number, snagging a 1-0 victory on Mike Lynch’s 48th-minute goal.

In Danbury, Staples finds a fast, talented team reminiscent of the Hatters’ 1980s-‘90s glory years. They’re 2-0, and are talked of as potential FCIAC champs. The Wreckers are missing tri-captain
Andrew Puchala – he’s been on-again, off-again so far with a foot injury – but control much of the 1st half defensively. An uncleared corner kick in the 31st minute gives the upstaters the lead. But in the final seconds of the half, strong pressure by Reid leads to a throw-in deep in Danbury’s end. Pensak’s long throw is headed out for a corner kick, on the far side. Daniel Perez Elorza falls down, gets up, then laces a ball into the both. Sophomore center back Josh Berman races forward and – like Mikey Fitzgerald and Puchala – heads home from close range. Just 5 seconds show on the clock.

Staples picks up the pace, and have chances on shots by  Berman and Beusse. Defensively, Schwaeber makes 2 fine stops. The match ends with a Danbury corner kick. They flood everyone forward. This time the Westporters clear – and earn a tough, but well-deserved 1-1 draw.

Bassick meets Staples for the 1st time since 2010. Coach Sal Hanaif has built the Lions into a very respectable side. Jamaican transfer Tavoy Morgan nets his 5th goal in 3 games in the 15th minute. But the blue-and-whites come right back. Berman toe-pokes in Pensak’s blocked shot. Three minutes later, Puchala pounces on – and finishes – Reid’s skittering free kick. Three minutes after that, Beusse takes Argosh’s slot for a 3-1 lead. And 3 minutes after that, Argosh’s poised finish off a long breakaway from Daniel Brill makes it 4-1. The Lions got one back in the 2nd half, but Staples maintained control.

Ridgefield roars out to a blitzkrieg 3 goals at Tiger Hollow. The stunning lead seems insurmountable. But 8 minutes before halftime Puchala races forward on a Graham Gudis corner kick. Sebastian Wick flicks on, and now it’s 3-1. Keeper coach Tom Henske rips the team a new one at halftime. Woog says that if Ridgefield can score 3 goals, Staples can too. He does not say that no team has ever come back from a 3-goal deficit in the Wreckers’ 56-year-history.

The coaches push an extra man forward, sacrificing 1 in back. Just 1:46 after intermission, Puchala nails his 2nd header – off another Gudis corner. Puchala, Berman, Pensak, Kenji Goto and Jack Zeldes anchor the defense. Seven minutes later, Staples strikes again. Pensak’s long throw bounces around; finally Argosh pokes it into the corner. The Wreckers are level – and 29 minutes remain.

Twelve minutes after that, Gudis launches a free kick. Brill bangs a shot off the post – and Puchala smashes it in. The final 16 minutes are insane. Staples goes for the kill. The stunned Tigers throw everything forward. Zeldes is lost with a concussion, on a jarring collision. The Wreckers manage the game well, and celebrate a historic 4-3, abyss-climbing victory, with a wild bus ride home.

24 hours later, they’re back in action – at undefeated Norwalk. The classic contest between the 2 rivals marks the debut of Bear keeper Tyler Dalton. Thought to be lost for the year with a back injury, he’s cleared to play this very afternoon. He’s very solid, and his quick punts spark the Norwalk offense. The Bears’ 5-man defense keep Staples at bay. But the Wreckers’ short-passing game is on, and when Reid aggravates an injury suffered at Ridgefield, his sophomore brother Daniel fills in admirably.

The match is destined to end 0-0 – a fair result. Suddenly, with 11 minutes to go, the referee rules that Schwaeber has caught a high back pass from Berman. It’s dubious – the ball was scuffed, not really passed – but the Bears get an indirect kick in the area, dead center. Despite a 10-man wall, leading scorer Jose Canahui knocks it into the far corner.

Staples does not give up. But the sudden, unlikely 1-0 defeat jolts them. They meet somberly behind the bench, and no one speaks on the bus ride home.

The Wreckers hope to get back on track against New Canaan. But just 5 minutes in, after a promising start – 2 quick Aidan Wisher corners – the Rams get a break. An easy ball played over the top is dropped into the net. Argosh equalizes in the 50th minute, off Gudis’ free kick. In the 2nd half Ziggy Hallgarten makes 3 key saves, including one on a twisting shot with 6 minutes left, for a very unsatisfying 1-1 draw.

Sirlin starts against Central, wearing a sick-looking mask. Daniel Reid’s 1st varsity goal is a chip of the keeper, caroming gently off the crossbar. Gudis nets a penalty kick, and Staples wins 2-0.

A scheduling nightmare — 6 games in 13 days – begins inauspiciously. Westhill wins 2-0, after a Staples PK is saved.

Fairfield is 8-0-3, by far the best start in the school’s history. The Wreckers unveil a new defensive alignment – Goto, Berman, Zeldes and Sirlin – and for long stretches of the 1st half they shut down the Falcons. A wild 2 minutes before halftime are highlighted by Hallgarten’s fingertip save.

In the 47th minute Perez Elorza pounces on a loose ball in the box. But 3 minutes later the hosts draw even, on Matthew Doyle’s header. They snag the lead 7 minutes after that, on the only breakaway the visitors allow. Michael Reid’s rocket is saved 6 minutes from time. Though Staples has once again played a top team dead even, once again they have nothing to show.

Trinity Catholic comes to Wakeman turf (Woog gives Loeffler Field to the girls, for an important match with Wilton). The best Crusader side in years – and one of the youngest – keeps Staples scoreless, until 1 minute before halftime, when Berman heads in Spencer Daniels’ corner kick. Jerrett Rende’s 1st-ever varsity goal makes it 2-0. Trinity literally parks the bus – on the asphalt behind the stands.

That brings 9-2-1 Greenwich, Staples’ nemesis in recent years, to Westport. Inspired – and angry at the way their season is unfolding – the Wreckers start ferociously. Michael Reid, Beusse, Pensak and Argosh have fired up their team. In the 26th minute, Argosh touches in Perez Elorza’s corner. Three minutes later, Beusse’s great shot is tipped over for a fine save.

Puchala comes on with 20 minutes to go, after missing nearly all the regular season. In the 73rd minute he wins a strong tackle, and hits Brill. The junior feeds a textbook slot to Perez Elorza, who beats the keeper for the insurance goal. The win is highly emotional.

Brien McMahon looms 24 hours later – rescheduled from when no referees showed earlier. This time, a power outage postpones the match.

On Saturday afternoon in Trumbull, Staples meets another team that’s had their number. Though Argosh nets the 1-1 equalizer, 3 2nd-half goals sink the Wreckers. It’s a bad loss – and their FCIAC playoff hopes are in serious jeopardy.

Fairfield Warde looms large, at the start of a 3-games-in-3-days slate. The Mustangs kick off, backward. Staples pounces. Perez Elorza takes the corner. Beusse heads on. Pensak – up from the back – turns it across the goalmouth, and in. The guests keep attacking. In the 2nd half Argosh rockets home a corner; Denzel Robinson nets his 1st-ever varsity goal, and then Brill launches a lefty golazo into the upper corner, from 30 yards out. It is as satisfying a victory as Trumbull had been a grim one. Unfortunately, Puchala limps off the field.

The 1st half of the twice-rescheduled McMahon game is lackluster. Perez Elorza’s 8th-minute, Luis Suarez-style lofted goal is the only score. The Senators come on strongly after intermission, though. Schwaeber and his defense hangs tough. Sirlin clears one shot off the line. For the 7th straight years, the Wreckers are headed to FCIACs.

First comes the season-ender against Harding, though. It’s the 3rd match in less than 48 hours. After a ceremonial 2 minutes, the seniors depart in a driving rain. Matt Bateman and Rende look strong defensively. But the Presidents strike first, against the run of play. A passel of junior varsity players come on in the 2nd half, as Woog sticks to his plan to rest most starters for the FCIAC tournament just 2 days away. Finally, in the 57th minute, Brill hits Daniel Reid. The sophomore craftily beats the keeper.

Less than 10 minutes later, Gudis arcs his 4th straight corner into the box. Berman heads home. Gudis then converts a PK, and adds another goal 13 minutes from time. Five wins in their final 6 matches – including 3 in 3 very exhausting days – have put Staples, finally, in good shape.

FCIAC Tournament

Danbury (11-2-3) is #2 in the FCIAC tournament. With 2 days’ rest – a seeming eternity — #7 Staples heads north. The 1st half is a midfield battle – and a chess match. Michael Reid playmakes. Zeldes marks dangerous Grimaldo De Sousa. Beusse roams the right flank; Robinson speeds down the left. Goto organizes the backs. Schwaeber scoops up whatever is needed

The 2nd half heats up – and opens up. Perez Elorza and Zeldes are injured, joining Puchala on the sidelines. Gudis comes on for his service ability. Almost immediately, he takes a free kick near the corner kick spot, on the left. Pensak, on the far side, redirects it across. Argosh pounces. Just 9:36 remains.

Forty-nine seconds later, Beusse serves a long ball. Gudis collects it, outraces his defender, and finishes calmly. Danbury fights valiantly for the remaining 8:34. With just over 3 minutes to go, keeper Ian Shannon outjumps everyone to head in a corner kick off the underside of the crossbar. Staples manages the clock skillfully, and earns a well-deserved upset win.

Three days later at Fairfield Ludlowe, in the semifinals, #3 Greenwich is bent on revenge. The high-intensity match takes just 3 minutes to produce a goal. Pensak’s long throw bounces around the box, and is knocked in for an own goal.

3 minutes later, the Cards draw level. But the Wreckers retaliate, midway through the half. Argosh flicks Pensak’s throw to the far post, where Berman heads home. Seven minutes after that, a corner – not, as Staples thinks, a goal kick – leads to a score by Nick Bartels. Schwaeber’s fine save 3 minutes before halftime keeps the scoreline even.

The 2nd half is even harder played. Greenwich bangs forward, and runs on. Bartels notches the go-ahead tally with 24 minutes to go. Staples puts a 3rd attacker on, but the Cards counter well. Schwaeber saves twice more, including a spectacular low shot. The match ends 3-2. An FCIAC final for Staples is not in the cards.

State “LL” tournament

The scouting reports on East Hartford are all the same: The Hornets are tough. With twin threats Rose Khalid and Harris Donovan, plus dominant center back Frantz Innocent Jr., the #14 upstaters are a formidable 1st-round foe for #19 Staples.

But for a week, the coaches have hammered home a game plan. After a rare 7-day layoff, the Wreckers go to work. Schwaeber’s great 8th-minute breakaway save on Emmanuel Agyemang sends a message. Michael Reid sets the tone at midfield, shutting down the 2 attackers, possessing elegantly and spraying pinpoint passes to both corners. Berman and Goto anchor the defense; Pensak and Zeldes take care of the outsides.

In the 15th minute, Pensak unleashes a long throw. Staples knows the Hornets seldom guard the far post. Berman is there, power-heading in for an early lead.

Beusse plays his best game ever in a Wrecker uniform. The hard-running, wide ranging leader wins a hard 34th-minute tackle, powers forward and laces a ball forward. Perez Elorza redirects it to Argosh, who tucks it home.

Staples subs liberally in the final 20 minutes. Two East Hartford shots hit posts. But Brill, Gudis, Daniels, Sirlin and Teddy Lawrence hang tough, for the win.

Two days later, the blue-and-whites head to West Haven’s Ken Strong Stadium. It’s been good to them in past tourney matches – but the Blue Devils are #3 in the LL tournament, with a sparkling 13-2-1 regular season mark. Staples was the only lower-ranked team to win in the 1st round.

The Westies boast team speed, individual speed, and tons of talent. Go-to guys include seniors Selim Turkmen and Sebastian Parra, junior Blaise Haba, and Salah Oumorou who – though only a sophomore – looks like a man among boys.

Staples again has a superb scouting report. But the Blue Devils charge out of the box. The 1st 5 minutes are overwhelming. The tide turns 2 minutes later, when a Westie defender tips a long Pensak throw over the goal with his hand. But there is no call – in fact, the hosts get a goal kick. It’s a harbinger of things to come.

In the 14th minute Argosh fires a cross into the box. Daniel Reid touches it back, where Beusse lies in wait. His shot slams into the back of the net.

Paced by Robinson’s hard running on the left side, the Wreckers come on. But in the final 15 minutes, the tide turns. Ulises Hernandez pounces on a rebound, after a strong Schwaeber save. The game is tied.

Schwaeber comes up big twice more, including a near-certain score. He forces that attacker to shoot wide.

The 2nd half starts with a stunning West Haven goal. Just 28 seconds in – following another non-call in Staples’ end – Oumorou finishes a coast-to-coast play.

Berman shoots wide on a corner kick. Two more corners go for naught. With time ticking down, Schwaeber saves again. Once again, the Devils nail the rebound. With just 16:45 to go, Staples is down 3-1.

Someone on the bench yells “Remember Ridgefield” – reminding his teammates of that classic game, when a 3-0 deficit turned into a 4-3 victory.

It takes less than 2 minutes to get a goal back. Argosh’s corner soars past the box. Pensak pounces from 22 yards out.

Less than 5 minutes later, Staples strikes again. Pensak’s long throw finds Argosh, hanging out near post. He leaps high, beating the defenders and keepers. Astonishingly, the Westporters have drawn level.

West Haven charges forward. In the 76th minute, Schwaeber saves again. Two minutes after, a controversial call gives West Haven a direct kick, dead center at the top of the box. Staples’ 5-man wall holds, and clears decisively.

Back come the Wreckers.  They win tackles and head balls. Playing with intelligence, poise and intensity, they drive into corners.

Once again, they earn a throw. Once again, Pensak unleashes it. Once again, Staples executes a set play well. This time it’s Berman with the header – and the 3rd goal in 14 minutes.

West Haven – stunned – has 1:26 in which to come back. They don’t. Staples stiffens, manages the match – and celebrates one of the most amazing comeback wins in their 56-year history. Woog says: “I’m supposed to say something intelligent. But I can’t. There are no words.”

Less than 48 hours after that fantastic win, Staples heads to Darien. They have not met this fall – with 19 FCIAC schools and only 16 games, each team “misses” 2. The Blue Wave has built their squad over 3 years. Students pour onto the sidelines even before the final bell, filling the tiny bleachers and the small knoll.

Darien misses their leading scorer (torn ACL). The Wreckers miss Zeldes (hamstring). A strong wind whips across the field. The Wavers win the toss, and choose to attack with the wind at their backs.

Their bang-it-forward style works well. All Staples wants is to escape with a tie at halftime. Thanks to 2 excellent saves by Schwaeber, they do.

But the wind plays no role 2 minutes after intermission. A long ball by Henrik Stockinger, a failed clearance and poor defensive communication get the Wavers on the scoreboard.

The guests have chances to equalize. But time ticks down. A great long shot by Hunter Kooyman 12 minutes from time ices the game.

This time, there are no last-minute heroics. Only the heartbreak of a season that – after a storybook run of 8 wins in the previous 10 matches – ends brutally short.

But what a run it was.

Quick kicks

There are 9 sophomores – a record – on varsity. With 10 juniors, and only 7 seniors, this is one of the youngest Staples teams in years….

Post-season honors include: Block “S” MVP (Michael Reid); Block “S” Coaches Award (Patrick Beusse); Alumni Award (Gabe Pensak); Dan Woog Dedication Award (Denzel Robinson); Jeff Lea Award (Staples athletic director Marty Lisevick); Stephen Martin Award (Ryan Fincher). Andrew Puchala passed #15 on to Noah Schwaeber. Beusse and Reid earned All-FCIAC kudos; Pensak, Puchala and Kenji Goto were named to the All-West team. Reid was selected for the Senior Bowl….

For the 12th time in 14 years, Staples earns National Soccer Coaches Association of America Academic All-America honors, for a team GPA average of at least 3.25 (for the 2013 team)….

Other varsity players not mentioned previously include Matt Bateman, Luca Cocito, Shane Dasbach, Sam Kantor, Andres Marmelo and Brenden Price….

Coach Seth Sholes’ junior varsity goes 3-4-6. Chris O’Dell’s freshmen are 8-2-0….

Both Bassick and Harding leave the FCIAC next year, after 20 seasons. Central is the long Bridgeport school to remain. That leaves 17 FCIAC schools – meaning there will be no more “unbalanced” league schedule. Every team will face every other one, for the 1st time in 2 decades.

SEASON RECORD: 12-7-2
COACH: Dan Woog
TRI-CAPTAINS: Patrick Beusse, Michael Reid, Andrew Puchala

 

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2015: A ROLLER-COASTER RIDE

Pre-season

n  Hoping to kick-start a competitive mindset, the coaching staff makes changes for 2015. The junior varsity will now be the “reserves.” A “varsity pool” — perhaps 28 or 30 strong — will be used to pick a game squad of 20 or so.

n  For the 1st time ever, Staples meets Fairfield Prep away. On beautiful Rafferty Field, junior Matteo Broccolo’s ball is flicked along by senior Daniel Brill. Junior Sam Kantor races on, finishing the only goal of the day.

n  South Kent cancels the afternoon of game time. Next up: Choate. Senior Andres Marmelo finds unmarked sophomore Timmy Liles, for another 1-0 scoreline.

n  In the annual Wethersfield jamboree, Brill pounces on senior Daniel Perez Elorza’s corner kick, to top the hosts. The non-starters draw 0-0 twice, with Fermi-Enfield and Kingswood Oxford.

n  The by-now-traditional Martin Luther King Day match, which again excites a large crowd on another hot Labor Day, ends 2-1. Goals come from sophomore Matt Engler and Daniel Reid, with a fine 2nd effort off his own direct kick. The traditional beach picnic follows.

Regular season

n  After an undefeated preseason, the Wreckers’ woeful record against Trumbull tumbles to an even worse 1-6-7. Staples looks dismal at McDougall Field, allowing a soft 60th-minute score (and poor positioning and execution) to doom them.

n  Tiger Hollow, by contrast, is a great site for Staples. Jack Zeldes goes down for the 2nd year in a row at Ridgefield — and is out for 3 weeks after a fierce collision — but junior Josh Berman leaps high to power in senior Graham Gudis’ 11th-minute corner kick. Daniels, Reid, Brill and Perez Elorza combine on goal #2. Kantor feeds Perez Elorza for a 3-0 edge. The Tigers break junior keeper Ziggy Hallgarten’s shutout a minute later, but defenders Berman, Broccolo, junior Teddy Lawrence and senior co-captain Kenji Goto secure the victory.

n  Kennedy Stadium has — tada! — a new surface, replacing its old Astrodome turf. Central’s Hilltoppers are fast and skillful, and the Wreckers revert to their Trumbull ball-in-the-air style. Yet in the 67th minute Gudis’ corner kick is headed forward by Berman. Senior Aidan Wisher pounces, and blasts the game-winner with authority.

n  Staples finally has its home opener. Late September brings archrival Greenwich — with 6-3 preseason All-American pick Nick Bartels — to town. Senior co-captain Noah Schwaeber makes his 1st start in goal, after recovering from a mid-summer broken thumb. The Cards own the 1st half. The 2nd 40 minutes is even. Greenwich’s Alejandro MacLean buries a rebound. Both sides kick it up a notch. As the clock on the new scoreboard ticks down, Goto plays a quick free kick to sophomore Chris Martenson. He finds Wisher on the right, who launches a perfect cross to Berman. The defender has moved up in the waning minutes — and his picture-book play with 2:14 left earns Staples a 1-1 draw. The Wreckers usually hate to tie. This is a draw they’ll take.

n  The blue-and-whites know they need a strong performance against St. Joseph. They don’t get one. A freshman nets the Cadets’ 1st goal after 4 straight shutouts — and it comes just 2:26 in. Keeper Joseph Lucy has a strong 1st half. With only 7:39 minutes to go in the match, Gudis’ calm free kick over the wall draw his side level. Next, Perez Elorza’s corner bounces off several bodies, before caroming in. Going for the kill, Gudis scores on a back-to-the-goal, across-the-body long-range strike that bounces off 2 posts. The 3-goals-in-4:18 span brings victory — but the Westporters are living on the edge.

n  Junior Spencer Daniels scores 5 minutes in at Westhill’s football stadium. Five minutes later, it’s Daniels again. Brill nails a PK; then Daniels gets the hat trick, for one of Staples’ easiest victories at the Vikes’ field in years.

n  Berman’s header and Liles’ shot give Staples a 2-0 lead at Brien McMahon, but it’s quickly halved. The guests nearly get 2 more, before Reid’s free kick from midfield slips through the keeper’s fingers. Broccolo, Lawrence, Marmelo, Martenson and senior Grant Sirlin manage the game to the end.

n  The Fairfield Ludlowe match — a big one, following 3 straight losses after an initial 38-0-0 mark against the Falcons and their previous Roger Ludlowe incarnation — is moved to the Wakeman turf, following a day-long. Few fans brave the weather as Staples takes on the defending, senior-laden FCIAC champs, but those who do are treated to a superb, intense performance. Goto, Berman, Lawrence and Broccolo step up well, catching the guests offside several times. Schwaeber handles the wet ball cleanly.

n  Two minutes before halftime, Lawrence finds the back of the net with his head, off Gudis’ 30-yard free kick. It’s the junior’s 1st varsity goal. The Wreckers tighten up even more defensively in the 2nd half, limiting the Falcons to a few long shots. Berman clears Ludlowe’s best chance off the line in the 50th minute. Twenty minutes later Perez Elorza springs Daniels, who converts an easy tap-in. Four minutes from time, Perez Elorza blocks a clearance. Sophomore Tyler Wright is there to notch his 1st varsity goal.

n  Staples’ biggest win of the year should ignite them. Instead, it’s the highlight of their year. Daniels pounces on a poor outlet by Norwalk’s keeper, then follows up to knock in a 12th-minute goal. But his side can’t add another, and the Bears equalize midway through the 2nd half.

n  Darien is a talented team on a mission: They believe that for 2 years, they’ve gotten little respect. Zeldes returns following a long absence (eye injury), and makes his presence known. In the 30th minute Zeldes tallies off a fine slot from Perez Elorza. Play gets chippy after intermission. Waver Sean Gallagher equalizes, but with 9 minutes to play Gudis converts a penalty kick. The Wreckers do not manage the game well, and with just 5 seconds — 5 seconds! — left, Darien manages to tie on a loose ball off a throw-in. It’s the 1st match all year in which Staples allows more than 1 goal — and one of the most devastating regular season losses in history. Even if it is really a tie.

n  New Canaan is no better. Marmelo performs well in his defensive start, and Sirlin looks steady at midfield. But a lackluster 0-0 draw leaves the blue-and-whites 6-1-4.

n  For the 3rd year in a row, Wilton comes to Loeffler Field with a lot on the line for both squads. The 7-3-2 Warriors are 1 point ahead of their hosts. Staples dominates much of the 1st half, earning numerous corner kicks, though Patrick Prinner cuts off many threats. In the 37th minute Daniels finishes a scrappy goal, following pressure by Broccolo and Perez Elorza. But Jack Brandt levels the score just after halftime, off a defensive mis-clear. Wisher is saved with 9 minutes left. Three minutes later, Brandt’s corner kick catches the shifting wind. The ball arcs over the keeper, nestling into the far net. It’s a gorgeous goal — and 3 points for the Warriors that Staples will never regain.

n  Senior Night at Fairfield Warde is scoreless until the 57th minute. Berman heads Gudis’ corner forward. Brill heads on; Perez Elorza pounces. The visitors move in for the kill. But 9 minutes later the Mustangs tally, off an un-cleared long throw. The game roars back and forth. Both sides miss chances. Suddenly, with 2 minutes remaining — after yet another missed Wrecker opportunity — Warde seizes a numbers-up situation. As happens frequently this fall, Staples’ opponents make the most of their chance. It’s a harsh defeat — and one that could doom the Westporters’ FCIAC playoff hopes.

n  Trinity Catholic will be the Wreckers’ 3rd game in 5 days. Another 2 loom in the next 5 — followed (hopefully) by the FCIAC tournament 2 days after that. The coaching staff rests 2 starters, and gives the others only 15 minutes. But Wisher starts the scoring 49 seconds in, then assists on Gudis’ header 3 minutes later. Engler takes over midfield; Broccolo nets his 1st varsity goal off a Shane Dasbach corner kick. Dasbach feeds Liles, who hits Kantor for his 1st varsity strike a minute before halftime. Staples pours in 4 more 2nd-half goals: Stephen Rowland (from Rory Steele); Kantor (from Liles); Steele (his 1st varsity goal, from Rowland), and Marmelo (yes, his 1st varsity goal) 11 seconds from time, thanks to Griff O’Neill. The match also marks the varsity debut of freshman midfielder Vaughan Piccirillo-Sealey.

n  Staples’ 4-0 thrashing of Stamford – a team they have not faced since 2010 — is keyed by goals from Berman (from Broccolo, Perez Elorza and Daniels); Perez Elorza (from Daniels); Daniels (from Perez Elorza and Wisher), and Marmelo (from Kantor). The match marks senior keeper Brenden Price’s 1st varsity start — but is notable mostly for a halftime medical emergency. A teenage Wrecker fan suffers coronary arrest while kicking in the goalmouth. Quick action by Staples trainers, parent Kerry Liles — and an AED from the car of parents Mark and MaryGrace Gudis — save the young man’s life.

n  The win clinches an FCIAC playoff spot. But the Wreckers fall 3-1 to Danbury in the regular season finale, mustering only a Gudis goal against a team that could contend for the league title.

 

FCIAC tournament

n  Staples’ late-season swoon earns them a #7 FCIAC seed, sending them to Darien for the 2nd post-season year in a row. Last year, the Blue Wave ended the Wreckers’ state tournament hopes. This year, they apply the coup de grace in the league tourney. A defensive miscue 8 minutes before halftime gives Jack Kniffin an easy goal. Another poor clearance into the middle allows Kniffin an equally simple 2nd score. The Westporters wonder: Can they regroup for the state “LL” championship?

State tournament

n  Chris O’Dell handles fitness and mentality training, and Tom Henske steps into a tactical role, as the Wreckers spend one of the most intense 8 days in their history. They concentrate on tighter defensive clearances, better pressure at midfield and up top, and a never-give-up attitude. They’re #20 in the CIAC “LL” (extra large school) seedings, about to face #13 (11-4-1) Hall-West Hartford.

n  All-day rain makes the Warriors’ grass field slick for the 4 p.m. kickoff. Staples roars out of the gate faster than they have all fall. It takes nearly 10 minutes — literally — for the hosts to cross midfield.

n  Wisher — moved into the attack — leads the offensive charge. Reid and Daniels patrol the flanks. Perez Elorza, Brill and Gudis stuff midfield. Behind them, Goto, Berman, Zeldes and Lawrence play high. Price rarely sees the ball.

n  Staples outshoots Hall 7-0 in the 1st half. Reid and Perez Elorza set up golden opportunities, but the ball skitters across the goalmouth just millimeters from a finishing foot. The best chance — by Daniels — bangs off the crossbar. Warrior coach Zeke Seguro tells the Norwalk Hour later that his team was lucky to escape halftime scoreless.

n  Hall comes on a bit in the 2nd half, but Staples still has chances. The Wreckers do a fine job of keeping the ball on the ground, despite the rain and wind. The Warriors steal a goal, against the run of play, off a nifty corner kick that’s dummied twice before John Punt blasts from 25 yards out.

n  Staples pushes forward. It’s not easy — Hall does not retreat defensively — and a blast by Gudis is saved spectacularly by keeper Jeremy Rausch. The end seems near.

n  Suddenly — with a mere 2:38 to play — Gudis feeds Perez Elorza. He turns, then rockets a shot into the far right corner, past the diving goaltender. It’s the type of goal the Wreckers had in September, then lacked in October.

n  The 1st 10-minute overtime resembles the 1st half, in Staples’ domination. The 2nd is more equal. Neither yields a score. It’s on to penalty kicks.

n  Four Wreckers — Wisher, Perez Elorza, Gudis and Berman — make theirs. But the middle kicker is saved, by Hall’s 2nd keeper. When the final Warrior hits true, Staples’ season is over. With stunning brutality.

Quick quicks

n  The PK shootout loss is the 1st in 7 state tournament games for coach Dan Woog’s squads….

n  Other varsity pool members not mentioned include Will Birch, Kenny Brill, Danny Jersey and Anton Mahr….

n  Coach Nicky Hoberman’s reserves finish 10-3-1. Chris O’Dell and Julien Delepine’s freshmen are 11-1-0….

n  Goto wins the Block “S” Most Valuable Player Award, and Price earns Most Improved. Other honors go to Marmelo and Zeldes (Alumni Award), Daniel Brill (Dan Woog Dedication Award), Kurt Dasbach, Tom Henske and Chris O’Dell (Jeff Lea Award) and freshman Gabe Baltierra (Stephen Marin Award). Schwaeber passes #15 on to Josh Berman. Perez Elorza and Gudis are chosen All-FCIAC; Daniels, Gudis, Reid and Zeldes make the All-Western Division team, and Perez Elorza plays in the Senior Bowl.

RECORD: 8-6-4
CO-CAPTAINS: Kenji Goto, Noah Schwaeber
COACH: Dan Woog