WESTPORT — It might seem trite to compare the FCIAC boys soccer season to an old heavyweight boxing match, with 16 games instead of 15 rounds and an early feeling out process.
But it is as apropos as anything, and the coaches of contenders make similar analogies during the course of two months. The thought process was summed up aptly by Staples’ Dan Woog after his team’s 1-1 tie at home this afternoon against Danbury.
“We tell the guys it’s a long season,” Woog said, “but it goes quickly.”
Lackluster efforts in mid September become more regretful as the leaves change, and quick starts are not always rewarded with strong finishes.
There was a period when Staples-Danbury was the league’s premier rivalry, and with the Hatters’ resurgence in recent years, the two sides set high goals.
With a younger team after two heavy doses of graduation losses, Danbury coach Antony Howard was looking at today’s game as a barometer against an opponent that, much to its glee, has somehow raced past the league pundits’ radar detectors.
Howard was pleased.
“I know Staples is going to be right up there and I said to the guys today will be a good test to see where we’re at,” Howard said. “We still have a lot of improving to do so I am more confident we can be there at the end of the season. We’re still getting used to the tempo of the game. I’m not too disheartened by the performance. We’re showing that we’re a tough team to beat, which is important. We just need to build from this and get some wins, which is the key.”
The Wreckers have not won an FCIAC title since the end of a three-year run in 2010. On paper, this is one of their sturdiest recent lineups.
“We love our guys,” Woog said. “We love this group. They’re hardworking, they’re fun, they’re very competitive, they’re policing themselves and setting goals for themselves. It’s a fantastic group. I can’t say enough about them.”
There was not much separation between the teams today. Staples scored in the 17th minute and Danbury equalized right away. The Wreckers got the better of play in the first half, moving the ball and creating space, while the Hatters controlled time of possession in the second half.
“We had a gameplan we didn’t follow,” Woog said. “It’s a simple game, we made it complex. We didn’t play simply, we didn’t spread it out as much as we could have, we tended to over-dribble and overthink a couple of times.”
Staples (1-0-1) struck in the 17th minute, when Vaughan Sealey, one of the returning starters, pushed a ball to Matthew Tanzer, an important newcomer. Tanzer struck a well-placed shot into the far side for a 1-0 lead.
The Hatters (0-0-2) evened the score on a redirected roller that Alex Pane hit perfectly into the net.
What ensued was a lot of creating and clearing and an absence finishing. What could have been the biggest gaffe, in the 36th minute, turned into perhaps the most spectacular play when Danbury keeper Matt Silva misplayed a ball. As he rushed back to his net, he somehow made a diving grab on what should have been a go-ahead score by Sam Liles.
“We haven’t had many games so it has been hard for us to get into a flow and a rhythm,” Howard said. “The more we’re playing the more we’re getting confident on the ball, and it was the same today. It’s our first real game on turf. They looked good, they looked confident. It took us 40 minutes to get going and then we looked good. We’re showing signs of promise.”
Staples has been hurt by the loss of academy players but got two influential ones back: midfielders Austin Sholes and Tanzer.
“They’ve raised the level for everybody,” Woog said. “I’ve always said we don’t need all the academy players, we need one or two who are gamechangers. They fit right in. We have several other skilled players that they work well with. They came to us for the right reasons. They wanted to play for their high school, they wanted tough competition, they wanted to lead us to something and they wanted to have a fun senior year. I’m glad we have them, I’m glad we have the returnees. It’s a nice mix.”
Howard hasn’t won but hasn’t lost after two road games, and offered the words that Woog and all the other coaches now getting through the second round are thinking.
“We’ll get better and better as the season goes on, hopefully,” Howard said.