Published on October 5th, 2015 | by Staples Soccer0
Wrecker Retrospective: 1965 FCIAC Championship Was A Classic
As the 2015 Staples soccer team passes the halfway point of the regular season — heading toward post-season — Fred Cantor ’71 looks back on legendary past tournaments. He’s reached out to alums from each decade, asking them to recall highlights of their championship runs. Here is the 1st installment of a 5-part series, exploring what it takes to become a Staples soccer champion.
27 is a magic number in the world of sports. It’s the number of World Series titles won by the New York Yankees. It’s also the number of FCIAC championships earned by Staples. That’s more than double the #2 team: Brien McMahon, with 11.
The Wreckers earned their 1st league title in the very 1st championship match, 1961 — a 1-1 draw with McMahon. The most recent came in 2010, Staples’ 3rd straight crown (2-1 over Fairfield Warde).
In between those titles there have been many magical moments. They’ve left lasting memories for players and fans, over 6 decades.
2015 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most memorable FCIAC title games in history.
The game at New Canaan High School had everything a fan could want: a fierce rivalry, revenge factors for both teams, and a high-octane offense against a nearly impregnable defense. Added to this mix were difficult weather conditions that tested both sides’ mettle.
I was a 12-year-old novice soccer fan, watching my brother’s team play. His 1965 team, and that match in particular, inspired me to want to wear the Block “S,” and have an experience like that too.
Staples and McMahon were unquestionably the 2 best soccer squads in the FCIAC. They’d faced each other in the 1st 4 league title matches, from 1961-64. They also met in the 1964 state tournament (the Senators blew that game open in the 2nd half, winning 5-0).
In 1965 regular season play, Staples dealt McMahon its only loss (3-1). The Wreckers had a perfect 12-0-0 record heading into the league championship, with a string of defensive-minded shutout and 1-goal victories.
The Norwalkers’ explosive front line featured John Sahnas, Phil Kydes and Gary Marmonaides, with 18, 17 and 14 goals respectively (at a time when games were only 60 minutes long). Sahnas and Kydes went on to become college All-Americans at the University of Connecticut and Harvard, respectively. Staples’ top scorer, Bill Shaeffer, had only 8 goals heading into the FCIAC showdown.
A starting midfielder, junior Chris Swan, recalls: “The 3 that year were better than any 3 I faced in 3 years at Staples, and 4 years at Union. McMahon also had 3 lesser but also dangerous midfielders in Martin Haller, Laslo Tailor and a Kydes cousin, so we focused on man-to-man coverage anywhere the 3 leading scorers, and Laslo Tailor, went. We shadowed them everywhere.”
Chris notes that “the humiliating 5-0 loss to McMahon in the ’64 state tournament” served as motivation in 1965.
Arriving at the New Canaan High field for the Monday afternoon FCIAC title match, both teams realized that conditions would be a factor. As noted by Town Crier sportswriter Dan Shulman, “a fierce wind was sweeping down the field from the northwest to the southeast corner,” an important advantage for the team with the wind at its back.
But an even more significant factor was the play of Staples keeper Paul Heath, and the cohesiveness of the Wrecker defense when McMahon had the wind (in the 1st and 3rd quarters). Sometimes, all 11 Wreckers were in the defensive end.
But with the wind at their back in the 2nd quarter, the Westporters seized their chance. Mike Gerstle headed in the game’s 1st goal. Still, McMahon attacked into the wind. Shulman wrote, “for the rest of the 2nd period, Heath gave a demonstration in goalkeeping.”
That demonstration continued into the 3rd quarter. Among his spectacular saves, a shot was about to bounce into the net. “Heath dove full-length and tipped it to the side.” Yet he could not stop a penalty kick, awarded during the 3rd-period barrage.
The 1-1 tie continued through the 4th quarter. With less than 3 minutes left, a McMahon defender was called for shoving inside the box. Shaeffer calmly struck the ball down the middle, as the keeper dove to one side. Staples held on for the 2-1 win, once again shutting down perhaps the most powerful offense ever to have played Connecticut high school soccer.
Shulman called Heath’s performance “probably … the finest goalkeeping job ever rendered by a Staples goalkeeper.”
Fifty years later, Swan still remembers the wind, and the thrill of Staples’ 2 goals. He proudly recalls the ’65 title — and year — as “my best overall season as a soccer player, at any level.” (Unfortunately, Staples was ultimately upset 2-1 by Manchester in the state tournament semifinals.)
Swan has strong, fond memories of coach Albie Loeffler: “He was my best coach in my entire life. I tried to emulate him in my coaching style — low-key on the sidelines. I always built my teams from the back up — Albie’s trademark. If they can’t score, you can’t lose!”
Swan — like many of Loeffler’s players — stayed active in soccer for many years afterward. He coached several boys state champion youth teams in Bethel, helped start the girls’ program there, and refereed many matches over the years. He now lives in Westport, and can be seen on The Hill watching current Staples teams.
But even after witnessing countless matches at a variety of fields, over many years, that Monday afternoon at New Canaan High School in 1965 always brings back special memories for Chris Swan. And for me.