FAIRFIELD — A conversation with his brother earlier in the day was the impetus for a vision Danbury’s Tiago DosReis had on his way to tonight’s FCIAC boys soccer semifinals.
“On the bus I was actually thinking about what would happen if I scored the goal,” DosReis said.
Three hours later, locked in a scoreless tie against Fairfield Ludlowe with just 45 seconds on the clock, DosReis had his answer. A hard-hit and brilliantly placed high shot under the crossbar propelled the top-seeded Hatters to a 1-0 win and a trip to their first final since sharing the title in 1998.
“I got the ball and then I took a touch and I shot it but I thought it was going to go over,” DosReis said. “I had a pretty good dip on it. It’s just emotional.”
In a tournament where form surprisingly has held, the Hatters (12-1-5) will face second-seeded Trumbull (12-2-4) in Thursday’s final. With three straight saves by goalkeeper Chris Prizio, the Eagles defeated Staples in penalty kicks, 3-1, after the teams had played to a scoreless tie through 100 minutes.
The Eagles will play in their third straight final. They shared the title with Greenwich two years ago. Danbury and Trumbull met six days ago in the final regular-season game, with the Hatters taking a 1-0 decision to earn the No. 1 seed.
The Hatters, with just three players that saw any regular varsity time a year ago, played their customary defensive game, led in the backfield by Tyler Warren. Danbury likes to counterpunch, and in a sense the result was just the way coach Antony Howard would have scripted it.
“We know the strongest part of our game is defensively,” Howard said. “If we take that away and try to go too offensively it will benefit other teams more than it will benefit us. We want games to be fairly tight because we know we’re not going to score a whole lot of goals. Hopefully we can get good opportunities and like today one opportunity, one goal.”
DosReis’ older brother, Felipe, was on the Hatters team that because of a rules violation was disqualified from playing in the state final two years ago. DosReis said he was given a fraternal pep talk to take advantage of the chance to play for a championship.
“We were expecting a more defensive game because they are a solid team,” DosReis said of the fourth-seeded Falcons (11-5-2). “We weren’t expecting too much of an attack. We’ve got to take our opportunities when we have a chance.”
Ludlowe controlled time of possession but was unable to create many strong chances. That was due in large part to the Hatters’ back line, even short Joe Mooney, who sustained a broken cheekbone in a quarterfinal win over Brien McMahon and is out for the season.
Howard wryly made it sound as if his team batted 1.000.
“It was the only shot,” Howard said. If you’re only going to have one shot all game you might as well have a good one like that, right? It was a cracker. A bouncing volley, he hit a rocket. I actually feel bad; (Coach) Kevin (O’Hara) and the Ludlowe boys played a very good game and I actually thought they were the better team to be honest. We’ve been on the losing end of these games a lot. We had one shot and it goes in. That’s soccer. I’ll take it.”
The second match was much more wide open, with Staples and Trumbull doing a good job of building attacks and denying the other.
“Both teams played a great game,” said Trumbull coach Sebe Gangemi, who is battling leukemia and arrived at Fairfield Ludlowe right after undergoing chemotherapy at Yale-New Haven Hospital. “We had chances, they had chances. It was an open game.”
The best came in the 66th minute, when the third-seeded Wreckers (11-3-4), who were unbeaten in 10 straight games, moved the ball to set up Matt Tanzer, who was denied on a great save by Prizio. That would prove to be foreshadowing for what would happen once penalty kicks were needed to determine a victor.
“You just have to get as much into the zone as possible,” Prizio said of his mindset. “Psych yourself up and whatever happens, happens.” Prizio smiled. “This is where I get all my action, all the camera time.”
Austin Sholes scored on the Wreckers’ first attempt before Prizio came up with a shutout the rest of the way.
Asked the feeling after his final save, Prizio said, “Emotions. Way too many emotions. Happy, surprise, shock, relief that it’s finally over. I had a great time today. It was a great time.”
The game was more deserving of a finish like DosReis provided earlier in the night.
“Three straight finals is pretty good,” Gangemi said. “But I hate penalties, I still hate penalties.”