There has been a preseason spark unlike any other in recent memory on the eve of a new FCIAC boys soccer season, and not because for the first time a non-traditional power, in this instance Fairfield Ludlowe, enters as the defending champion.
First, start with the balance atop the league. The sport is one of the few that does a preseason poll of coaches, and four teams earned at least one first-place vote, and that includes Wilton, which finished in seventh place. The Warriors winning the title isn’t completely far-fetched, that’s how much parity there appears to be amongst contenders.
That is augmented by the schedule. The departures of Bassick and Harding from the FCIAC affect soccer arguably more than any other sport, because now each team will play everyone else in the league. Teams will no longer earn a higher seed or two by having an easier slate of games. It will make for compelling league play, but it will also cost some teams in the state seedings because of an extra loss or two.
Add in a return of several key players, now cognizant academy soccer just might be fool’s gold, to their high school teams and you will see more contests between more teams with more uncertain outcomes.
Got all that?
There is a plethora of storylines, but the best is what has the potential to be a great championship chase in a sport where there have been six different winners (one tie) in the last five seasons.
Fairfield Ludlowe: If we are going to pick a team to beat, might as well go with the defending champion, which remarkably made it through the conference schedule unbeaten. The Falcons lost a lot but bring back a lot, with Brendan Layne anchoring what should remain a sturdy defense and Fred Meagher in goal. Nick DeMaso and Tulio Almeida will oversee the middle of the field, while Michael McArdle and Nick Stahle will be dangerous up front. Will the Falcons perform as well with the pressure of frontrunner status?
Greenwich: The Cardinals were selected by the coaches as the favorite (they received seven first-place votes, one more than Ludlowe), and it is difficult to argue with that choice. They made it to the conference final, have a steady pipeline of skilled players which keeps the term “rebuilding” out of the vernacular, and are well-coached. Forward Nick Bartels, who tied the school mark with 29 goals last season, is dangerous anywhere from within 30 yards and fun to watch.
Staples: Are the Wreckers ever not highly touted in the preseason? And they seldom fail to deliver. The big question mark is will the team get off to a strong start with four injured seniors, including goalkeeper Noah Schwaeber? Fortunately, depth is a strength, especially in net, where the team has three players that could start for many teams, and a defense led by Kenji Goto. Overlook Staples at your own risk.
Danbury: Remember when the Hatters were a perennial power and the Danbury-Staples rivalry was the league’s best? The current Danbury players are too young, but last year they led a resurgence that will continue this season. The team was dealt a server blow last weekend when goalkeeper Ian Shannon sustained a season-ending injury with a torn ACL in a scrimmage. Derek Garnett will lead the backfield and twins Connor and Justin Warren will help ensure the Hatters remain atop the standings.
Norwalk: The Bears lost just once in league play last year…and only finished tied for third place because of five draws. Eight starters are back, led by goalkeeper Tyler Dalton and seven-goal scorer Santiago Mesa. Norwalk has drawn the least attention of all the contenders this preseason. That may soon change. And don’t underestimate the intangible of a loyal fan base.
Ridgefield: The Tigers had an uncharacteristic fall a year ago, slipping to 4-9-3. Thus, they will likely be the team that has the biggest improvement. Matt Wilson, one of the returning players from academy soccer, instantly becomes one of the league’s most dangerous players. Will Ridgefield survive opening against Ludlowe, Staples and Greenwich in succession?
Wilton: The Warriors are always solid and they will find out early what lies ahead: they face Greenwich, Ludlowe and Ridgefield in the first two weeks.
Nick Bartels, Greenwich
Jack Brandt, Wilton
Tyler Dalton, Norwalk
Nick DeMaso, Ludlowe
Kenji Goto, Staples
Andrew Mathew, Darien
Alejandro Maclean, Greenwich
Griffin Paterson, New Canaan
Matt Reis, St. Joseph
Justin Warren, Danbury
Matt Wilson, Ridgefield
Players To Watch
Bridgeport Central: G Andres Palacio, F/M Yoel Salvador.
Danbury: D Derek Garnett, D Connor Warren, D Alec Moore, D Kevin Krohomer, M Justin Warren, M Ricardo Rodriguez, M Lenin Galarza, M Kauli Dos Santos, F Edwin Rosano, F Jason Cordova, F Felipe Alves, F Kevin Spennato.
Darien: G Liam Rischman, M Andrew Mathew, M Hunter Kooyman, M Sam Pfrommer, M Jack Kniffin.
Fairfield Ludlowe: G Fred Meager, D Richie Bellucci, D Tripp McGarrie, D Brendan Layne, D Matheus Nascimento, M Mason Jennings, M Nick DeMaso, M Tulio Almeida, M Tarcio Almeida, F Michael McArdle, F Nich Stahle.
Fairfield Warde: Tom Scheller, Jack McCormick, Luis Cari.
Greenwich: G Jose Romero, D Inaki Endive, D Seb Oe, D Zack Friedman, D Billy Martin, D Paul Ruh, D Edouard Quiroga, M Alejandro Maclean, M Nico Ortiz, M Richard Rodas, M Aldair Garcia, M Flavien Lolo, F Nick Bartels, F Alessia Fikre.
Norwalk: G Tyler Dalton, D Loizos Karaiskos, M George Kutrubis, F Santiago Mesa, D Leo Taiyanides, F Anthony Hernandez, M Alex Escalante, F Cristian Moncada.
Ridgefield: M Matt Wilson, M Daniel Mines.
St. Joseph: F Matthew Reis, F Sawyer Meehan, M Brandon Rua, M Anthony Leonardi, M Christian Barroso, M Edmund Roux, D Brendan Derleth, D Frank Perez, D Dante Alberti, D Jacob Krasnai, G Joseph Lucy.
Stamford: F Leao Valladares, M Victor Gjuraj, D Uryi Yosypiv, D Federico Marin, G Mayco Ortiz, D Ibrahim Diallo, D Andy Louis, D Ariel Sandoval, D Ralph Daniele, D Carlos Lopez.
Staples: F Daniel Brill, F Daniel Perez Elorza, F Tyler Wright, F Anton Mahr, F Luca Cocito, M Jack Zeldes, M Graham Gudis, M Daniel Reid, M Sam Kantor, M Matt Engler, MAidan Wisher, D Kenji Goto, D Josh Berman, D Kenny Brill, D Chris Martenson, D Grant Sirlin, G Noah Schwaeber, G Ziggy Hallgarten, G Brenden Price.
Westhill: F Max Atkinson, D Juan Elizathe, D Charlie Teeters, D Kevin Lam, D Matt Dzieman, M Hector Cruz, M Jairo Garcia.
Wilton: Jack Brandt, Josh Reeve, Harry Allers, David Schneidman, Nicholas Davatzes, Timmy Watson, Jordan Lord, Patrick Prinner, Matt Ravichandran, Cole Hawthorne, Grey Livingstone.
(Teams missing did not reply to requests for information.)