Published on October 14th, 2015 | by Staples Soccer0
Wrecker Retrospective: 1987 FCIAC Championship
Fred Cantor ’71’s look back at some of Staples’ 27 FCIAC championship matches — 1 for each decade — continues with 1987:
As Staples headed into the 1987 FCIAC final, there had been several changes since the early years. Games were now 80 minutes long (40-minute halves), in contrast to the 60-minute games (15-minute quarters) of the early years.
Also, the league had expanded from 11 teams in 1970 to 14 by 1987. That led to a new playoff format. There was no longer a 1-game tourney, pitting the Eastern and Western Division winners. Now the 2nd-place finishers also qualified, in a 4-team tournament.
Another important change: The FCIAC title match was no longer a weekday afternoon event. For the past several years, it had been played under the lights.
Last but not least, the Westport Soccer Association had been formed in 1975. Among other things, this enabled Westport soccer players — starting at a young age — to compete against other towns through travel team programs. This paid big dividends in the 1987 FCIAC final.
Staples, led by tri-captains Peter Doolittle, Jem Sollinger and Andy Udell, was senior-dominated. 8 starters and the top 3 substitutes were all members of the class of ’88. They had played together for years as the Westport Warriors under the WSA banner. Under coach Dan Woog, they won the CJSA U-16 state championship.
The Wreckers finished 1987 FCIAC regular season play with a 10-3 record, good for 2nd place in the Eastern Division behind Wilton. Danbury won the Western Division, with Greenwich 2nd. But neither division champ prevailed in the semifinals, resulting in a title match between Staples and Greenwich. Staples had beaten the Cards during the regular season, 1-0.
Midfielder Jon Walker, part of that senior class, vividly recalls his emotions getting ready to head out on the field for the final at Wilton High School’s football stadium: “With the large crowd, FCIAC opportunity versus Greenwich and our friend-connections with our Staples soccer team (“Besties :)”), we were so psyched for this FCIAC championship!”
Jon also remembers: “We all decided to wear black under our eyes to deflect any reflection from the lights. (Or just to try and look tough!)”
Jon and his teammates were indeed tough, controlling the flow of the game from the midway point of the first half on — and creating multiple scoring opportunities. But despite all the pressure they exerted, the Wreckers were unable to put one in the net as regulation time wound down.
Someone on the bench commented how exciting it was that the Wreckers were attacking with such relative ease, and how exciting it was that a few good opportunities just missed by inches. Sophomore striker George Robbins said, “I’d rather be ahead than excited.”
Head coach Jeff Lea made a number of changes throughout the game, searching for a combination that could finish off the scoring chances. Nonetheless, the game was scoreless after 80 minutes. Overtime was next.
Jon recalls that the team was not frustrated at all. Players maintained complete confidence in each other. “We had an amazing team. We felt we would win,” he says.
That confidence paid off 4 minutes into overtime. Sollinger faked out his defender on a throw-in by Udell, took the ball toward the corner, then cut back a beautiful diagonal cross into the box. Walker ran on, struck it first time into the lower right corner, and was immediately engulfed by his delirious teammates.
Soon thereafter, Jon got to experience something else that never existed during the early era of FCIAC championships: an interview with Channel 12 News. He uttered what will also go down as one of the most memorable quotes in Staples soccer lore: “I’m in heaven! I scored the winning goal! We’re number 1!”
Looking back now, Jon — who went on to play varsity soccer at Skidmore College — attributes all the time he and his senior teammates at Staples played together, from elementary school on, as integral to what followed: “After taking our lumps in the early years, we began to gel and mature as a team as we entered Staples. The experience of playing together on a town travel team was instrumental in our success as Staples Wreckers.”