WESTPORT — This was a draw for the 5-percenters affiliated with the Staples boys soccer program and affirmation for FCIAC fans that equanimity is likely to return in the championship chase.
“Ninety-five percent of the time we’re pissed off when we tie,” Staples coach Dan Woog said moments after his team had done just that, playing Greenwich to a 1-1 decision Tuesday afternoon. “If it is going to be a tie, I’d rather it be us than them.”
Woog was referring to the manner in which the draw was manufactured. A hard but not necessarily well-played game had sat in Greenwich’s favor since the 59th minute, when Alejandro MacLean, whose initial shot was stopped by Staples keeper Noah Schwaeber, got the rebound, maneuvered to create space and scored the day’s first goal.
It appeared it would hold up as the only one, that was until the 78th minute, when Aidan Wisher and Josh Berman connected on a play that will make all the best-of highlight reels from the season. Wisher delivered a long ball from the right side. Berman, set up inside the box at the far post, placed a perfect header back into the net, setting off a huge celebration.
“Aidan got the ball out wide, we had numbers in the box and swung one into the back post,” Berman said. “It couldn’t have been better placed. I saw it and knew I had to get it. Great ball.”
Ties can rouse different emotions, and the one point the Wreckers came away with felt like much more.
“They’ve got a lot of heart,” Woog said of his players. “The goal was a nice one. We practice it. It doesn’t always work. We have several different options and that’s one of them.”
The mood was noticeably different on the Greenwich sideline. The Cardinals (3-0-2) remained one of three league teams without a blemish on their ledger, and leaving Westport without a defeat is consolation for many teams, even one as worthy as the defending FCIAC runners-up. Not in this instance.
“We didn’t play particularly well yet we still feel like we lost,” Greenwich coach Kurt Putnam said. “I’ll take the small graces there, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.”
Fairfield Ludlowe went through the conference unbeaten last season, but it would be surprising if any team finds the path to the title a yellow brick road this fall.
The rematch of last year’s FCIAC Tournament semifinal looked much better from a macro than micro standpoint. Neither side played poorly, but, as Putnam noted, “This wasn’t one of your classic Greenwich-Staples games.”
“We didn’t control the ball,” Putnam said. “We’ve played some pretty good halves. We haven’t played a full game yet. We never got any flow, any rhythm.”
Credit the two sides’ defenses, but the ball was often moved without real purpose. And in the defining description of what the game lacked, Putnam noted, “I felt like we were one good pass from scoring a number of times.”
Staples (2-1-1) started the season with several key injuries and seem like it is still trying to find its stride. Perhaps as important as the outcome was the added confidence derived from, except for the first 10 minutes, playing one of the preseason favorites on equal terms.
“Greenwich is a great team, they have a ton of players and great individual players too,” Berman said. “They are one of the best organized teams we’ve played. Getting the tie, obviously we are looking for three points, but to come back from down 1-0 is better than giving one up.”
Putnam said while hardly a classic, the game was emblematic of what has allowed the term venerable to be attached to the Staples program.
“You come here and you know what you’re going to get with Staples,” Putnam said. “They are going to be down your throats as soon as the whistle is blown. They’re not going to give you any time on the ball. To play a really good game of possession soccer you’ve got to be a really good team.”
In the end, the Cardinals felt like they had conceded a goal of more devastating consequence in the standings.
“It was a good equalizer,” Putnam said. “But if we get pressure on the ball I don’t think the cross ever comes in.”