1976: BACK FROM ‘THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL‘
• Co-captains Phil Moen (tabbed by the Westport News’ Dan Woog "the most exciting player in the state") and Kevin Murphy ("the consummate defender") are itching to win a state championship. The Wreckers’ 2-year absence from the throne is called "an eternity." However, Dan Kahn is the only other returning letterman.
• The bicentennial season opens with a 3-1 victory against New Canaan. Moen scores the first goal of the year, then follows with a bullet off the post. Sophomore Gordon Hull, back from a summer in his native Brazil, shows the poise of a veteran on goal number 2, and adds on another on an assist by Moen. Staples tops Danbury 3-1, then show the effects of playing 3 games in 4 days. Though the team looks ragged, Moen’s hat trick helps down Norwalk 4-0.
• There are 2 obstacles in Darien: "A bowling alley of a field, and a bullhead of an official." Shortly after Hull scores, he uncorks another shot that carries into the goal and beyond, through a gaping hole in the net. No one – not keeper Vin Ferraina, Blue Wave coach Jim Quigley or referee Phil Liebrock – denies it is a goal. However, the second official declares the shot high, and overrules everyone. Darien is embarrassed, but quickly ties the match. Finally, in the first overtime, Eloy Rodriguez gives Moen a beautiful through pass, and the co-captain nutmegs Ferraina for the winner.
• Another odd goal is scored in a 3-0 win over Stamford. A shot by Rodriguez caroms off Murphy’s heel, and is shoveled into the net by the backpedaling keeper. A 4-0 shutout against Andrew Warde comes with a heavy price: Hull breaks his leg colliding with the Crimson Eagle keeper. The Wreckers surrender an unheard-of number of goals in an "embarrassing" 4-3 win over Ridgefield. The Tigers have come a long way from their 15-0 and 11-0 loss days. In a come-from-behind 5-1 victory over Roger Ludlowe Rodriguez is tripped on a breakaway, and chips a bone in his ankle.
• Facing Trumbull in their first FCIAC year, Staples unveils a new lineup. Changes involving Rich Farquhar, Pat Hays, Pat Cain, Scott Altmann work, but the only goal comes when steady halfback Seth Sholes sends Kahn in 1-on-1. A frustrating 1-1 tie with 3-7-1 Westhill, on the Vikings’ horrible hilltop field, is the first blemish on the ’76 record. As the goalmouth grows muddy, only solid play and fine leadership by Murphy prevents panic. Finally, 3 minutes from time – with Murphy up front for added offense – the Westhill keeper bobbles the ball. Hays pounces and passes to Moen, who scores.
• But then come back-to-back FCIAC losses – discounting last year’s forfeits, the first since the final two games of 1971. The first is an up-and-down 3-2 affair against Greenwich. Four days later, however, the Wreckers redeem themselves against Brien McMahon. By chance, the final regular sason game pits the two divisional champions. Staples is missing Hull, Rodriguez, Kahn (groin pull), defender Brian Conroy (back injury) and Conroy’s replacement, Don Frassetto (ill). The makeshift lineup comes through, holding the powerful Senators scoreless until well past halftime. Keeper Gregg Boersma makes several key saves, and only a long indirect kick in the final minutes gives McMahon a 1-0 win.
• The Wreckers are understandably confident 4 days later facing the Senators again, now for the county crown. Yet the Norwalkers are just as ready, and capture what becomes a lethargic game 2-0 in front of a large, chilly crowd at Staples. The Wreckers are riding an uncharacteristic 3-game losing streak. Even odder, they have been shut out twice in a row.
• They face Danbury without keeper Boersma (separated shoulder). Backup Rich Hiltz has had an erratic year, but the junior goalie comes through. He gets stronger as the game wears on, and when Hays and Sholes combine to push in a rebound of Moen’s low, hard shot in the first 5-minute overtime, the victory celebration is heartfelt. It is, however, too cold for most fans to clap.
• Proving they can (in coach Albie Loeffler’s words) "climb back from the bottom of the well," the Wreckers earn another 1-0 win, this one over Norwalk at New Canaan’s large Connor Field. Clutch goalkeeping by Hiltz and sharp passing presage a fourth period corner kick by Moen. Seeing the keeper out too far, he strikes quickly. The keeper, Murphy and Cain all leap together. The ball skims off the goalie’s fingertips and into the far upper corner. The Bears resort in the final minutes to "chopping (and) whining," but Staples does not care. They are ready for their next foe: Brien McMahon.
• Returning to Connor Field, the Wreckers allow the Senators to score first, after a poor defensive clear. But in the second quarter Moen lofts a corner kick that surpasses even the previous game’s effort. All Murphy does is cock his head and fire – he never moves his feet – and Staples equalizes. Yet though they dominate the second half and much of overtime, the lack of finishing power since Hull’s broken leg is evident. Just moments from penalty kicks Cam Diamandis beats 2 drawn-up fullbacks, and at the baseline turns and fires from close range, scoring between Hiltz’s sliding legs. "Sudden death" means just that: The Wreckers’ season is over. The climb back from the bottom of the well is incomplete – but inspirational.
• Moen is selected to the All-American team. Moen and Murphy are named All-FCIAC first team players, while Sholes is chosen for the second team. Kahn and Cain receive honorable mention. Loeffler is honored by the Western Connecticut Soccer Officials Association for "outstanding service and contributions to soccer."
• The junior varsity is coached by former player Chris Keneally.
• E.O. Smith-Storrs, a Class M team competing up 2 divisions in LL, takes the state championship, dominating McMahon 3-0.
• Former players Rich Brodsky and Andy Simon star at Wesleyan University, while Paul Hunter co-captains the University of Connecticut.
• The New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League sign 18-year-old Gary Etherington. The previous spring he was on the Annandale, Va. team that beat Westport in overtime, in Westport, in the Eastern U.S. finals, then went on to capture what is now the U-19 McGuire Cup national championship.
• In the off-season, Louie Yannotti is named an All-American – in golf.
CO-CAPTAINS: Phil Moen, Kevin Murphy
COACH: Albie Loeffler
1977: THE LOEFFLER ERA ENDS
• The Westport News’ Dan Woog predicts the ’77 season will be "the toughest one ever" for Staples. Fairfield County is catching up with Westport; few experienced players return; Gordon Hull has re-broken his leg during the summer. Coach Albie Loeffler says glumly, "If we can put together a club that’s respectable by the middle of October, I think we will have done a heck of a job." In a pre-season round-robin the Wreckers tie host Guilford, and defeat Canton and eastern Massachusetts champion Foxboro by 1-0 scores.
• Staples opens against graduation-stung Brien McMahon. Still, the Norwalkers strike first, as Nelson Yepes pounces on an uncleared ball. Soon Loeffler sends four newcomers – senior Mike O’Connell, junior Mike Noonan and sophomores Eric Zuckerman and Jeff Kates – in for their first varsity appearances, and the attack perks up. Noonan notches Staples’ first goal of the season, heading in his own deflected shot; classmate Tom Greenwald tallies 5 minutes after coming on. Loeffler enters the locker room to a standing ovation; he has just won his 300th game, making his record 300-41-44. Someone asks if his next goal is 350 wins. He says, "No. Just 301."
• He gets it 4 days later, in a physical 2-0 victory over Danbury. Kevin Boyarsky tames Rui Caetano, the FCIAC’s leading scorer in 1976. The defense of Boyarsky, Brian Conroy, Scott Altmann, Pat Hays and Ken Greenwald is key in a 0-0 tie against Greek-dominated Norwalk; keeper Rich Hiltz makes 2 fine overtime saves on George Pampoukides. Chris Hall’s score carries Staples over winless Darien, but the Wreckers fire so many shots over the goal that field hockey coach Ginny Parker stations girls behind the net to toss them back. The offense continues to struggle, and the defense to shine, in a second consecutive 0-0 draw, this one with Stamford.
• Things pick up in a match that recalls Staples’ finest traditions. Defending state champion E.O. Smith-Storrs falls with a 2-0 thud before a large, enthusiastic Westport crowd. It is the first-ever regular season meeting between the titans, but many players know each other from summer ball. Both goals come in the second half. Noonan feeds Greenwald, who turns 360 degrees, then chips into the goalmouth for Hall to lay it easily in. Panther coach Don Minton pulls his keeper in the waning minutes, but the move backfires when Tod Barrett races from midfield and splits two fullbacks with a low, hard 50-yard shot.
• The defenders get high marks as Staples continues to win low-scoring matches. The season takes a downturn when overconfidence, sloppiness and finally panic cause a 1-0 loss to 2-8-1 Rippowam. But New Canaan, the Wreckers’ only pursuer in the FCIAC East, loses 3-2 in overtime to Danbury. The Wreckers bounce back with shutouts in their final 2 matches, and nail their 17th divisional championship in 17 years.
• The game at New Canaan’s Connor Field matches Danbury, the league’s top offensive club (54 goals) against the defensive leaders (3 against). For the sixth time this season, the Wreckers win 2-0. Scott Strausser plays like a man possessed, and his teammates follow. In the second half Hays steals the balls and feeds Rich Farquhar, whose shot is stopped. Hall wins it; his rebound hits the post, but Tom Greenwald is there to scuff it in. Twelve minutes later Hays chips goalward. Hall leaps perfectly, and the keeper can only wave as it flies past. Strausser justly receives the Edmund F. Finley Most Valuable Player Award.
• The Wreckers nip New Canaan 1-0 at home, in ominous fog. Lady Luck shines, though, as Tom Greenwald nets a typically opportunistic goal. His knack is for being in the right place at the right time, and finding loose balls. Unfortunately, he suffers a concussion soon afterward, and is lost for the season. The Wreckers fall apart in the final 6 minutes, and the defense and Hiltz must make nearly a dozen clutch saves.
• The quarterfinal, against Hamden, is played on muddy, bumpy Connor Field in New Canaan. Staples assumes full control, but manages only 1 goal. It comes midway through the first half when Strausser powers a diving header down and right, off Ken Greenwald’s indirect kick. It is Strausser’s first score of the season, in his third exceptionally strong match in a row.
• That earns a semifinal rematch against Danbury, back at Connor Field. The high-scoring Hatters have been shut out 3 straight times by Staples – and never beaten them in history. This time they score twice, however, and turn the shutout trick against their nemeses. Danbury deserves to win; coach Jim Trocolla spreads out his attack, and tightens his defense. On the still-soggy field, Staples suffers ball control problems. The Hatters’ first goal comes 10 minutes after halftime, after a missed defensive clear; the insurance tally comes with just 4 seconds remaining, on a lofting corner kick.
• The Wreckers have been far more than respectable, and Loeffler – true to his pre-season comment – has done a heck of a job. But it is final game as coach. In the spring of 1978 the founder of Westport soccer, dean of Connecticut coaches, and 2-time National Coach of the Year calls a team meeting. He announces that after 37 years of teaching (26 at Staples), and 25 years of coaching (19 in Westport), he is retiring.
• His legacy is remarkable. His 314 wins are the most by any high school soccer coach in the nation. He has won 8 state championship (7 at Staples); his 5 in a row are another U.S. record. Over 175 former players have played college soccer; 4 (John Marks, Middlebury; Chip Young, Brown; Tim Hunter, University of Connecticut; Shane Kennedy, Babson) are All-Americans. He has lost more than 2 games in a year only 4 times at Staples; his teams have posted 25 consecutive shutouts (yet another national mark), and won 43 straight games without a loss. Between 1965-75 they suffered just 2 home losses – including post-season play. And – oh, yes – they won their division championship every year he coached them. Though he retires, his impact on his players – and the Staples program – will never vanish.
• Incredibly, no member of the FCIAC champion and state semifinalist Wreckers makes the All-FCIAC first team. It is the first time they are shut out of the honorary squad. A new selection system, based upon the number of times players’ names appear on cards that are supposed to be filled out by coaches after each game, is one culprit; so is Staples’ lack of superstars. Farquhar, Hays, Conroy, Strausser, Hiltz and Seth Sholes all make the second-team; Tom Greenwald is honorable mention.
TRI-CAPTAINS: Brian Conroy, Rich Hiltz, Seth Sholes
COACH: Albie Loeffler
1978: THE LEA YEARS BEGIN WITH A BANG
• The 21st team in Staples history gathers at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 28. For the first time ever Albie Loeffler is not at the helm, physically or figuratively. Jeff Lea, who co-coached the squad to a state championship in 1970 while still in his 20s, and served as Loeffler’s junior varsity and assistant coach for 10 years, becomes the second permanent coach. He greets 60 boys, including Gordon Hull, the hard-luck senior co-captain who missed nearly all of 2 seasons with broken legs. Lea says, "I’ve just got to give it my best shot. I’ve learned more from Albie Loeffler than anywhere else, but now I’m the coach and I’ll do my best. I’d be foolish to change anything radically. Besides, we have similar coaching philosophies, such as an emphasis on defense." Like Loeffler, he predicts the Wreckers will win "a couple." Pre-season includes scrimmage wins over Guilford and the Brunswick School of Greenwich.
• Lea opens with a 2-0 home shutout of Greenwich, on goals by Eric Zuckerman (from Tom Greenwald) and Tod Barrett (from Andy Meyers, 11 seconds from time). Greenwald gets the game-winner 2 days later at Brien McMahon when, 11 minutes from the end he leaps high to head Hull’s free kick home. Hull puts the ball into play immediately after a hand ball – the first Wrecker to take advantage of a rule change to 1 whistle (not 2) on free kicks. The win has a price: starting right back Stuart McCarthy is lost for the year with torn knee ligaments.
• The Wreckers avenge the state semifinal loss to Danbury with a decisive 4-0 win. Players keep dropping – Mike Noonan (virus), Barrett (training violation) — but the team rolls over New Canaan 2-0. Norwalk’s Kurt Jacobs’ lofting 50-yard shot that floats over keeper Greg Beard’s hands is the first goal of the year on Staples. The Wreckers start raggedly on Darien’s postage-stamp field, but moments after Jeff Kates (a non-starter after missing an important practice) and Jeff Connors enter the lineup, things change. Connors heads in Zuckerman’s long blast. The Blue Wave tie the match on a header, but Greenwald and Poncho Rodriguez secure victory.
• The Wreckers travel to the University of Connecticut to take on unscored-upon E.O. Smith. Staples takes the field with just 5 minutes’ warmup, and Smith dominates in a 3-0 win. The Westporters’ offense continues to sputter in a 0-0 tie with Wilton, the Warriors’ sixth of the season. Wilton keeper Bart Lombardi handles 20 shots flawlessly; 2 hit the goalpost, and a missed penalty kick dooms the Wreckers. Doug Donovan returns from a severe ankle injury, helping Staples to a 5-0 win over inept Andrew Warde.
• Cruising at 11-2-1, the Wreckers go in the tank. Westhill nets an incredible 3 goals in a 4-minute span early in the final regular-season game, and rides them to a 3-0 win. The game qualifies the Vikings for the state tournament. The Wreckers walk nonchalantly to the bus. It is an odd scene.
• The loss to Westhill definitely stings. The Wreckers are determined to show 1,200 spectators at Stamford’s Cubeta Stadium they can play. They start with a rare pre-game yell, then establish such a torrid pace against McMahon that fans fear they will burn out by halftime. They fire shots from everywhere, 33 in all; they pass like Dutch nationals; they link together all over the field, and defend rock-solidly. Among the stars: Zuckerman, Barrett, Kates, Marc Sholes, Kent Silveria, and backs Donovan, Meyers, John Nathan and Rick Jakobson. Despite such fine play, and Hull’s 25-yard rocket, the game ends 1-1. Nelson Yepes pounces on a rare loose ball.
• However, the night belongs to sophomore keeper Bob Simonton. His sensational fingertip save on Yepes’ long, looping shot keeps momentum from shifting. Simonton is so poised that few know he is starting his first game ever as a Wrecker.
• Because of the Westhill loss, Staples plays a first-round match. They dispatch big, strong Manchester 2-1. Simonton saves 2 early chances. A great pass from Barrett to Greenwald turns the tide; Barrett later adds a penalty kick.
• The quarterfinal against third-rated (13-2) Hall-West Hartford at Nonnewaug High in Woodbury is a thriller. Kates scores unassisted at 5:30; the Warriors equalize on a diving header. But 26 seconds later Barrett beats the flat defense, goes baseline and feeds Sholes, who from 15 yards out hammers one past the motionless keeper. Hull’s through ball to Greenwald gives the Wreckers a 3-1 edge, but with 25 minutes to go the rapid pace takes its toll. Staples retreats defensively; Hall creeps within 1 on a header. Simonton’s clutch save keeps the Wreckers on top; moments later Jakobson boots a bouncing ball off the line, and for the third time in 3 games Nathan (who also shuts down dangerous Simon Ostrov) heads a certain goal out of danger.
• The number 7 Wreckers – the highest surviving team – advance to the semifinal against Windsor, again at Nonnewaug. The upstaters, a middling 10-5, shocked first-seeded Smith fifth-ranked North Haven, both in overtime. The Warriors gun for win number 3 when they score first, at 21:12. At halftime Lea reminds his charges that never in their 5 non-wins have they rallied from behind. He urges them to work the ball outside.
• The psychology and tactics work. Fourteen minutes after halftime Simonton punts long to Barrett at midfield. Facing sideways, he chests it forward to Greenwald, crashing through. Without breaking stride the co-captain blazes ahead, draws the keeper out, then beats him with a casually struck, yet hard, shot. Firmly in command, the Wreckers get their first go-ahead game-winner of the year when Nathan chips an indirect kick over the defense. Hull left-foots the ball crazily in off the far post.
• The final against Greenwich at New Canaan’s Connor Field on Monday, Nov. 20, is as historic and memorable as the 1973 classic, won by Jim Manning’s final-overtime goal. The Cardinals are far stronger than the squad that fell 2-0 to Staples on opening day. Dennis Taylor has transferred in from Jamaica, and scored 11 goals; he works well with Mikko Mellanen, a Finn with 13 goals and 6 assists. Greenwich is the hottest team in the LL field.
• But the Wreckers’ confidence grows every time Simonton touches the ball. That confidence could be shaken 7:55 in, when Mellanen hooks a shot into the net, but it is not. For the second time in 5 days the Wreckers come from behind. Ten minutes later Barrett turns and feeds Hull, whose initial shot is stopped. But he rams his own rebound home, bouncing it over the onrushing keeper.
• Less than 2 minutes later Hull lays off at midfield for Greenwald. The fastest player on a very fleet team, he powers the ball to the left when the keeper comes just like before. The result is the same, and Staples leads 2-1. Greenwich is ahead 12-6 in first-half shots, but Simonton, Noonan, Jakobson, Meyers and Nathan stand firm.
• The second half starts equally well, but 5:15 in Cameron Hopper’s midfield blast puts the Cards back in the hunt. Then, late in the match, Taylor rips from 15 yards out. Simonton sprawls. With mud in his eye, he cannot see the ball. But he reacts instinctively, and an official calls Simonton’s save 1 of the best he has seen in 20 years.
• Neither team breaks the deadlock in regulation time, or the first 2 5-minute sudden death overtime periods. Lea puts Donovan in at fullback; the fresh blood, along with the deployment of Jakobson, Sholes, Zuckerman, Connors and Dave Halper at different spots, helps wear down the Cards.
• Finally, in the fourth and final OT, after nearly 100 minutes of play, with both teams nearly spent – and the unsatisfying prospect of co-champions almost at hand – Barrett feeds Kates for a final attack. Kates makes a brilliant run downfield. Somehow, he gets the ball somewhere near the goal to Hull; somehow Hull fires. It is low, hard – and, just 11 seconds before the final horn sounds, it beats both the defense and keeper.
• Pandemonium reins. Hull, who does not know the overtime is sudden death, is bewildered by the mob of players, friends, parents, teachers and alumni lifting him on their shoulders. But they know – and know too that the state title is back where it belongs.
• The Westport News features a double exposure photo by former player Ray Flanigan: The jubilant Wreckers are superimposed on the face of the official clock, showing the 11 seconds remaining when Hull scored.
• Tom Greenwald is the state champions’ lone representative on the 15-member All-FCIAC first team, in another travesty of justice. Hull, Barrett and Noonan make the second team, while Kates and Sholes receive honorable mention.
• The banquet, in Fairfield, is memorable. Guest speaker Santiago Formosa of the New York Cosmos advises serious players not to go to college; Brazilian native Hull delivers a speech in Portuguese, which fellow captain Greenwald "translates"; Greenwald’s father strides in late, wearing a kilt, following a bagpipe lesson. However, the affair is tinged with sadness: Hull’s father died of a heart attack a few days after the state finals.
• Lea’s staff includes Jack Finn and former player Ed Murphy.
• Loeffler spends the year as athletic director, soccer coach and history teacher at Greens Farms Academy.
• McCarthy, who misses most of the season with an injury, goes on to help found the Westport girls soccer program, and coach the Staples girls varsity. He also serves as Westport’s Parks and Recreation Department director.
CO-CAPTAINS: Tom Greenwald, Gordon Hull
COACH: Jeff Lea
1979: THE RIDGEFIELD RIVALRY BEGINS
• The team begins pre-season practice at Coleytown Junior High School. They plan their first-ever appearance at Greens Farms Academy, part of a "Total Soccer Spectacular" with 4 high schools, 4 U-12 girls teams, and an appearance by 1974 World Cup Most Valuable Player Johan Cruyff. But a state regulation bans Sunday play, so the Wreckers’ major event is a scrimmage against Guilford, at Farmington High. Brown University and Williams College clash afterwards.
• Staples scores 9 goals in the first 2 outings, and allows 0. Unfortunately, all 9 come in the opener against Westhill; the second game is a boisterous 0-0 tie with Greenwich. Highlights of the revenge against the Vikings include a side volley by Rob Hagebak, and a hitch kick by Dan Donovan 5 seconds after he enters the match. The Greenwich game sees both sides tire near the end of the 80-minute regulation time – halves have been lengthened by 5 minutes this year – and 2 5-minute overtimes.
• The next big rematch turns out better. The Wreckers subdue Brien McMahon 3-1 on an early breakaway goal by Marc Sholes, a looping 40-yarder by Rick Jakobson, and Eric Zuckerman’s solo effort. Dave Halper marks Nelson Yepes out of the game, though by the end most teammates are missing: John Nathan (strep throat), Jakobson (charley horse), Sholes (shin injury), Zuckerman (bad back) and Hagebak (split lip, 5 stitches).
• Feisty play continues at Calf Pasture Beach, Norwalk’s home field. The Bears trail in shots 19-4, but lead in fouls 30-9. Donovan gets the first tally, again instantly after entering the game; Hagebak scrunches in the second, 8 minutes after the match should have ended (the Norwalk timekeeper is wandering in the parking lot). The 6-0 win over Stamford Catholic is deceiving: Officials halt play with 15 minutes left because of a downpour. There is no telling what might have happened against the Crusaders, who in their first year of varsity soccer travel to Westport with just 2 substitutes.
• Despite missing Nathan (broken sternum) and Chris Strausser (broken collarbone from an automobile accident), then losing Zuckerman (injured knee and elbow) and Jeff Kates (severe charley horse), the Wreckers edge Andrew Warde. Sholes nets the lone goal 11 seconds into the second half. Halfback Greg Beard, stopper Ken Hoyt and fullbacks Halper and Kevin Gillespie secure victory.
• A crowd of several hundred gathers for a crucial game against Ridgefield, likely to determine the Eastern Division champion. The Tigers, winners only 4 times the previous year but now reaping the benefits of a solid youth program, stun their hosts with a 0:27 opening goal. The Wreckers’ initial kickoff goes out of bounds; Bill Kreisher sends a crossfield pass to Guy Welton. The freshman forward (and former Westporter) pops the ball into the far side. The goal, only the third on keeper Bob Simonton all year, awakens Staples. Seven minutes later Jakobson finishes a fine run by splitting defenders with a pass to Hagebak, hanging at the edge of the penalty area. The sophomore striker takes 1 touch, then calmly equalizes.
• With just 1:10 remaining, Jakobson – his face bloody from a knock minutes earlier – takes a pass from Zuckerman, confuses his defender, wheels and fires. Keeper Tom Austin – another Tiger freshman – never moves on the rising shot. The Wreckers win their final 3 games against weak foes to finish 14-0-2, their first undefeated regular season in 6 years.
• For the first time all season everyone is healthy and rested. Hagebak, Zuckerman, an own goal, and Tom McGhee – with 1 second remaining – account for the scoring in a 4-0 rout of Danbury at Stamford’s Cubeta Stadium. Kates, who plays intelligently and commandingly at sweeper, is named Most Valuable Player.
• Hagebak scores 1:27 into the octofinal against Bulkeley-Hartford; Chris Kranick adds another 1:33 into the second half, for a 2-0 victory. Hoyt, who plays a strong match, is ejected. After being deliberately fouled, he tosses Wojtec Zaluski to the ground.
• The Hamden quarterfinal, at Woodbury’s Nonnewaug High School, features a fine first half and a messy, foul-filled second. The game is 2 minutes old when Nathan takes a crossfield pass from Zuckerman, then feeds Jakobson for a left-footed flick goal. The fifth-seeded Green Dragons draw even with number 1 Staples on a direct kick from the penalty arc, but 1 minute later Kranick fires a pair of off-balance shots. The second leads to a penalty kick, which Zuckerman converts.
• After intermission Hamden throws caution to the wind – and at loose balls and Staples players — forcing Simonton into a series of punch, tip and gut saves. Only his superb positioning, great timing and reckless abandon save the Westporters.
• The semifinal at North Haven’s Sachem Field is delayed half an hour as sun blinds both teams. In Arctic weather, Glastonbury (number 3, 15-2) hands the flat Wreckers a 3-1 loss – their first of the season. Simonton’s initial save and Beard’s clearing header delay but do not prevent the first tally, a miraculous shot into the corner. The second Tomahawk strike comes in a crowd midway through the second half. With Kates moved up on offense the upstaters make it 3-0. Staples’ last gasp, a Jakobson blast, is not enough. Two days later, against 10th-ranked Manchester, Glastonbury lets down, and in the final game of his 32-year coaching career Dick Danielson goes out a 3-0 winner.
• Zuckerman, Kates and Jakobson are elected to the All-FCIAC first team. Simonton makes the second team, while Sholes, despite his long injury, receives honorable mention.
• Former player Dennis Murphy serves as Lea’s assistant, while Jack Finn coaches the junior varsity.
CO-CAPTAINS: Marc Sholes, Eric Zuckerman
COACH: Jeff Lea
1980: THE PERILS OF PARITY AND PENALTY KICKS
• The 1980s begin with more FCIAC teams enjoying the benefits of youth soccer programs. Observers wonder if the Wreckers can achieve their 20th consecutive division crown. Few starters return – and no defenders. The only pre-season scrimmage is an unimpressive outing against Weston.
• It takes just 2 minutes to score in the opener against Westhill. Sophomore Mike Moses bulls through to earn a corner kick; classmate Mike Brown takes it, deflecting it in off 2 Viking heads. Rob Hagebak and Chris Kranick notch the other goals. At Rippowam coach Jeff Lea moves Kranick to sweeper, drops Chris Strausser to midfield and sends Brown to forward, with good results. An own goal, a rebound by Moses on an Andy McWhirter shot, and a 25-yard looper by Bandy Mahr dispatch the hosts. The highlight comes with 12 minutes left in the first half, when the wind created by a Strausser blast causes the wooden posts to collapse. Staples physics teacher and longtime fan Nick Georgis holds the goal up until halftime, when it is braced.
• Three more wins precede a 2-1 loss at Danbury. The slightly bigger and quicker Hatters exploit the absence of Kevin Gillespie (leg injury) and Dan Donovan (hamstring pull), tallying twice within a minute. Staples gets back on track with Brown’s into-the-wind goal against New Canaan. Stopper Andy Davis, defender Chris Withers, midfielder Strausser and sweeper Kranick all look comfortable and strong.
• The Wreckers nip Norwalk 1-0 as Todd Zucker heads home Brown’s cross, 15 minutes into the second half. The game is halted with 7:26 remaining when, the Westport News’ Dan Chenok notes, "outraged Norwalk fans became too outrageous." A team yellow card in the second half brings Bear fans, massed on the Staples hill, to their feet. After Zucker’s goal several spectators run on the field, bringing the security guard, 2 policemen and a youth officer to the scene. Soon Norwalk co-captain Mickey Kydes is ejected and two more yellow cards are shown to Norwalk (1 player receives his second, so he is gone). The official is surrounded, and terminates play. The FCIAC soon rules that teams must sit on the opposite side of the field from fans. Staples does not comply for several years, citing sun problems, but in 1988 the benches move away from the hill – back to where players sat when Staples soccer began.
• The Norwalk match takes something out of Staples. Four days later, on a Saturday morning in Darien, they look disorganized and spiritless. The Blue Wave beat them for the first time ever, 1-0, and the 6-2 Wreckers trail Ridgefield by 2 games. Minus McWhirter (concussion), Donovan (knee), Gillespie (leg), Kranick (knee) and Mark Noonan (leg), the Wreckers drub Stamford Catholic 5-0. Wilton proves more difficult, yet Staples subdues them 1-0 when new sweeper Bruce Kinnaman’s long pass finds Moses, who rifles in his eighth goal in 11 games. Kinnaman, keeper Bob Simonton, Dan Kennedy and Strausser – who shuts down national youth team player Ken James – are defensive heroes.
• Just 1 game back following Ridgefield’s 1-0 loss to Norwalk, the Wreckers travel for a showdown. Every injured player except Kranick is back; Hagebak sheds his famous number 54 in favor of 13. Simonton keeps things close when the Tigers take early command, but co-captain Terry Hughes converts a corner kick at 10:25. Staples battles back, and in the 21st minute Mahr feeds Moses for the equalizer. Kinnaman halts 2 breakaways; then, just before halftime, McWhirter heads in Brown’s corner kick. Noonan’s diving header provides the insurance goal.
• When the Wreckers assemble at Stamford’s Cubeta Stadium for their 20th straight FCIAC title match, their streak is so remarkable that not only were none alive when the first was played, but some of their parents were not yet married. Asked for his strategy against Danbury, Lea jokes, "We’re not going to give them 2 goals in a minute." They don’t. In fact, they give them 0 goals in 80. Staples’ torrid pace forces 1 Hatter to cramp early. Midway through the first half Moses twice loses and regains control of the ball, smashes through 2 defenders, and is victimized by a vicious tackle. Strausser pops a quick direct kick into the goal mouth – and Moses gets even by heading it into the lower left corner.
• The second Staples score, 3 minutes later, also follows a Danbury foul. Strausser takes this kick from 25 yards out, curling a rising shot in. Moses wins the Edmund O. Finley Award as the Most Valuable Player.
• Ranked third, the Wreckers sweep their octofinal against Simsbury 4-0, on 2 goals by Strausser and solo strikes by McWhirter and Moses.
• The quarterfinal against Norwalk is far different. Despite the loss of injured star Lefty Kydes the Bears travel to Wilton on Saturday, Nov. 8 ready to play soccer (and 2 uniformed policemen are there to remind them). The Wreckers have good chances, including a long shot by Hagebak that slams off the rounded crossbar and bounces straight down but does not cross the goal line. Bear backs produce many panic clears; keeper John Petrides saves his teammates with clutch punches, clears and catches. When Noonan feeds Brown with a gorgeous through ball, and Brown outraces his defender but shoots high, he pounds the ground in frustration. "It’ll come, Mike," Lea yells. "It’ll come."
• It does not. In the second half, facing the wind, Hagebak laces a perfect corner kick to the far post, but no one is there; then Davis, who plays tremendously at stopper, makes a dangerous run, but no one meets his centering pass. Two 10-minute overtimes are equally frustrating. The Wreckers outshoot Norwalk 4-1; both teams have 2 corner kick, but neither converts. Penalty kicks await.
• A high school rule change allows any player – not only those on the field at the end – to shoot. It helps Staples. The only 2 who make their first kicks are those who did not play 1 minute of the game: sophomore Rob Stone and injured junior Kranick. Kranick is the Wreckers’ final shooter. Facing a 1-goal deficit, he hits the crossbar. The ball bounces down and into the net, and his team lives.
• But Norwalk still has one shot. Mickey Kydes must miss to give Staples a reprieve. He does, hooking his kick far to the right. The second round of 5 begins.
• Lea uses his same 5 kickers. This time Strausser, Stone and Moses convert; once again Kydes faces a do-or-die situation. This time he does. His shot is true, and while Norwalk fans erupt graciously, the Wreckers slump to the bench. It is a brutal finish – and it comes exactly 14 years to the day after Norwalk eliminated Staples in the semifinals of the 1966 state tournament. Unbelievably, that was also on penalty kicks.
• Simonton finally achieves much-deserved first-team All-FCIAC honors; Strausser and Moses are named to the second team. Davis and Hagebak make honorable mention.
• Former player Dennis Murphy serves as Lea’s assistant coach, while his Ed is junior varsity coach. The jayvees go 14-1.
CO-CAPTAINS: Bob Simonton, Chris Strausser
COACH: Jeff Lea