WESTPORT — Staples boys soccer coach Dan Woog used the word sour to describe the mood of his players following Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Bridgeport Central. It was a listless performance and their second straight defeat by shutout.
Woog is more laissez-faire than most coaches, relying less on his own words and more on his players’ intelligence to work through rough stretches.
“It was just a bad performance all around and they know it,” Woog said. “We said to them you guys figure it out, we’ve had it with you.”
Woog admitted he had no idea what took place from the time he left his players Saturday until today’s game against Greenwich. It turns out a lot, and it paved the way for an important 1-0 victory.
“We knew we had to come into this game as strong as we could,” said defender Chris Martenson, one of the Wreckers’ two captains. “We put 100 percent effort in because that’s the only way we beat this team.”
Woog may still not know that Martenson and Matt Engler, the team’s other co-captain, called a Sunday practice that included watching film of the Central loss.
“We went over everything we did wrong in the game and everything we did well,” Martenson said. “We talked about what we could do better with the things we did wrong. We looked at today and we knew what to do.”
Vaughan Sealey scored on a brilliant delivery high into the right side in the 14th minute and goalkeeper Ry Cohen made a point-blank stop on the Cardinals’ Martin Garcia in the final seconds.
In between, Staples (3-2-2) controlled the midfield, went harder to the ball and got solid play from the back line.
“A lot of heroes,” Woog said. “A wonderful finish, team defense, numbers behind the ball. It’s a satisfying win for them and beating Greenwich is no small feat ever. They have pride, they have integrity, they have guts and they have heart, but it was stuff that they hadn’t shown. They found it deep within them, they found it well and they found it through the seniors.”
Woog said he subscribes to a basic philosophy, one that explains why he didn’t schedule the Sunday practice.
“One of the things we try to do is to give them the tools to try and figure it out on their own,” Woog said. “Soccer is a player’s game, not a coach’s game.”
The Cardinals (4-3) last lost twice in a row in October of 2011, against Staples and Westhill. They were picked No. 1 in the preseason coaches’ poll, but may be a prisoner of their own success. There are just two regular players back from a year ago, when Greenwich shared the FCIAC title with Trumbull.
The Cardinals have now lost three of four matches, including Friday’s 1-0 decision against Ridgefield.
“The difference Friday was we deserved to get something from it, if not win it,” Greenwich coach Kurt Putnam said. “They played with more determination and a sense of urgency and desire. (Staples was) trying to break a losing snap as well. It was a big game for that. They went out and raised their game to a level to prevent themselves from falling into a bit of a slide. Credit to them. That was nothing like the game we played on Friday. We played a fantastic game even though we lost. Great intensity, great teamwork. We moved the ball around really well, we just couldn’t finish.”
This year the league looks even more balanced than usual, with fewer easy games and points harder to earn. Norwalk is unbeaten, but has played one team with a winning record (it travels to Staples on Wednesday). Seeding may mean less this postseason than ever, but earning one of the eight tournament berths will be more demanding.
“The expectation is a bit tough for us,” Putnam said. “Yeah, we have a successful program. But we are counting on a lot of junior varsity players from a year ago.”
Martenson said he was optimistic today was the start of turning a negative into a long-term positive.
“I hope this helps make it so we don’t lose in the future,” Martenson said.