NEW CANAAN — A rare feat for any team, Fairfield Prep head coach Ryan Lyddy felt his squad had top-ranked Norwalk on its heels Friday morning at Dunning Stadium in a battle for the Class LL boys’ soccer title. But as the No. 1 seed, the Bears found a way.
Senior Andrew Melitsanopoulos converted a penalty kick 30:43 into the game for the eventual game-winner, and teammate Nacho Navarro added the clincher with minutes remaining to give Norwalk the 2-0 victory and its first state title since 1966.
“I mean I think we matched up better with (Norwalk) than Greenwich (state semifinals), to tell you the truth,” Lyddy said. I thought it was a lot better game. It took us a little while to start up possession, once we did that and saw them on their heels starting to break down as a unit.”
Norwalk (21-1-1) threw everything at Prep in the first half, including a one-on-one breakaway from Kevin Joslyn 10 minutes in, but Prep keeper Will Steiner was able to deflect it to keep the score at zeros early on. “We have a lot of respect for Will (Steiner) he’s a great goal keeper,” Norwalk head coach Chris Laughton said. “But we have so much confidence in these guys and they’ve played in big games before and big moments.”
That confidence was evident late in the half after a collision and a Norwalk player was taken down. No cards were issued but Melitsanopoulos was granted a penalty kick and delivered a shot to the left corner for the 1-0 lead. “It was important,” Laughton said of the goal. “We talked about that leading up to the game and in practices, really coming out and being aggressive. Andrew (Melitsanopoulos) stepped up.”
Prep continued to apply pressure and did a nice job of countering the Bears fast-attacking offense. The Jesuits had many opportunities of their own to score — once in the first half off a Davie Bruton pass to Austin Sims, but the goal was disallowed — and another in the second half off a Sims ball that hit the top cross bar. Chances were there including some late second-half corner kicks but Prep couldn’t seem to convert when needed. “Multiple opportunities once again,” Lyddy said. “(It was a) matter of time before we put one in.”
The Bears added the dagger when Joslyn made a nice pass to Navarro who kicked it past Steiner’s stretched out hands for the 2-0 lead with less than three minutes in the game. Norwalk’s keeper Svet Kozak played solid in net, recording his 14th shutout of the season with seven saves.
Prep, which was vying for its first state title in program history, is losing a handful of players including Steiner, who is bound for Villanova next fall. Steiner finished the day with four saves. “He did his job in an absolutely fashionable way,” Lyddy said of Steiner. “I think we’ll be back next year, this wasn’t a fluke thing, which is nice. It’s just tough for the seniors that dedicated themselves for four years and this is how far they gotten.”
Fairfield Prep beats Greenwich 7-5 in PKs to reach Class LL boys soccer final
NEW CANAAN -- Three years ago Fairfield Prep coach Ryan Lyddy heard plenty of criticism for playing so many underclassmen, but every time he received a complaint, he kept the program's long term goals in mind. Friday evening in the Class LL semifinals, the patience Lyddy showed finally paid off as his now senior laden team defeated Greenwich 7-5 in penalty kicks after a scoreless regulation and overtime to advance to the championship game next week. "This feels absolutely unbelievable," Lyddy said. "Took over three years ago, put in a new system with these seniors that were sophomores and took a little heat for playing younger guys but it is starting to work."
After a scoreless regulation, the Jesuits (20-2-1) felt confident heading into overtime with standout keeper Will Steiner on their side and he came up big, making three saves during the shootout after standing on his head at times while turning away shots during overtime and regulation. Steiner said believing in himself was the key to penalty kick success. "I just try and stay very confident," Steiner said. "You are supposed to score, so, as a goalie I just try to give myself the best chance to save it. I love it. The shooters do things to try and fake me out, I try to get in their head and get an advantage."
Greenwich (16-3-2) controlled the ball for the majority of the second half and had several chances to win the game in regulation and overtime, but was unlucky the times it had chances to beat Steiner. The unluckiest play of all came in the first overtime when Pieter Zenner fired a shot that hit the crossbar and fell to Diego Gutierrez, who had an open look but pushed the ball wide of the goal. The Cardinals hit the post again with 1:45 to play in the second overtime on a shot by Will Gittings.
Greenwich coach Kurt Putnam called it the hardest defeat he has suffered as a coach and felt his team out played Prep. "It's the toughest, isn't it because the best team lost," Putnam said. "I don't care what anybody says, the best team lost." The Cardinals played without goal keeper Emmett Clarke for most of the game after he was injured in a collision nine minutes in and sent to the hospital for precautionary reasons at halftime with an injury to his groin. "Goal keeper goes off after five minutes and what can you do?" Putnam said. "It shows our guys spirit and character and personality. I go away an incredibly proud coach because they couldn't have done anymore out there and it sucks that the game is so cruel. It's the cruelest game in the world." Back-up keeper Guy-Rene Gerin played well in Clarke's absence but gave way to Santiago Irigoyen in the penalty kicks because Putnam felt Irigoyen was better suited for the format. Irigoyen made one save during the shootout on the second kick of the round.
The teams were tied 4-4 after five kicks, meaning they would go another round of five. In that round the Jesuits stepped up even after Jordan Visosky hit the post with the first shot of Round 2. That miss was followed by Steiner's second save. The Jesuits then got successful tries from Austin Sims, Chris Molina and Kieran Bracken. After Greenwich's Jamie Kyle scored to knot it 5-5, Steiner denied Aidan Rafferty and when Gutierrez's final kick went wide of the goal the Jesuits stormed the field, as did the student section and now sit one game from fully realizing the plan that was three years in the making.
FAIRFIELD -- Austin Sims was struggling. Fairfield Prep's star forward hadn't scored since Oct. 23 -- a span of more than seven games -- and nearly was subbed midway through the Jesuits' Class LL quarterfinal against Conard Tuesday. "We were thinking about subbing him," Prep coach Ryan Lyddy said. "He got us here and we had to keep him on the field." And Sims made sure that decision was the right one.
The junior scored in the fifth minute of the second extra time period, lifting the third-seeded Jesuits over the 11th-seeded Chieftains 2-1 at Alumni Field. "The whole playoffs, I haven't really been on my game," Sims said. "It was really nice to go out here and score a goal, especially a meaningful one like that one."
Stephen Tortora potted a penalty kick goal and Prep goalkeeper Will Steiner stopped six shots, amid jeers from the more than 150 Conard students who filled three school buses to root on the Chieftains. "It was surprising to me that they had more kids at our home field than we did," Steiner said. "It was a fun environment. They were getting on my case: it was all fun."
The Jesuits advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in school history. Prep will play either Amity or Greenwich either Friday or Saturday. The Spartans and Cardinals will play Wednesday at 2 p.m. in Woodbridge.
Matheus Souza scored Conard's lone goal. The Chieftains finished 14-5 -- finishing with their most wins since 1972. "I have a team that doesn't ever quit and I'm proud of them," Conard coach Adam Linker said. "What this team accomplished -- although they're not going to accept it as a consolation because we just lost -- was more than 40 years worth of Conard soccer."
Sims' overtime goal snapped a 1-1 tie in the 95th minute. He took a long pass from freshman Chris Molina, outmuscled a Conard defender, then beat goalkeeper Neil Droney, whipping the Jesuit bench and student section into a frenzy. "I was just very happy for him," Steiner said. "He hadn't scored in a little while. It was good for him to get that goal."
Steiner's kick save on Souza less than 90 seconds later helped save Prep. Conard senior Colin Wilkinson's rebound sailed over the goal. "He is a superstar," Lyddy said of Steiner. "He was phenomenal."
Tortora's PK broke the ice in the 43rd minute. After a Jesuit was fouled in the box, the junior midfielder beat Droney to his left, putting Prep up 1-0. Just 44 seconds later Souza tied the score. Conard's Samuel Turco headed a cross to his foot and the senior beat a lunging Steiner, making it 1-1. "(Souza) hung off and ¦ had a good finish," Steiner said.
Besides Sims' goal, the Jesuits had the wealth of chances in overtime. Blake Roberts' chance, just 87 seconds into the extra session, sailed high. "They had a lot more chances than us," Linker said. "We were on our heels the whole game."
FAIRFIELD -- In an attempt to prepare for Monday's Class LL second round playoff game against third-seeded Fairfield Prep, New Milford boys soccer coach Antony Howard leaned on an assistant who'd had a son play for the Green Wave in their 4-0 loss to Staples in the 2009 state final. The news wasn't encouraging: that Staples team was good, but the current Fairfield Prep side might be even better. "He said (Prep) was the best team he's seen," Howard said.
The Jesuits certainly lived up to that billing, posting a dominating 5-0 victory to advance to Tuesday's quarterfinals against Conard, which it will host at 3:45 p.m.. For Prep it was a welcome breakout performance after winning five straight one-goal games, including last week's SCC final. The Jesuits also matched their season high for goals scored. "They're finally tasting what could happen," Jesuits coach Ryan Lyddy said. "We told them last night, today, before the game, that there's no way we should be winning games 1, 2-nothing."
A two-minute span at the midway mark of the first half all but decided this one. First, Austin Sims collected a header from Davie Bruton, settled and lashed a shot at the top of the box past New Milford keeper Evan Souza. Then two minutes later, before the 19th-seeded Green Wave could reorganize, it was 2-0 through a goal by Chris Molina set up by Sims. "When he's in form, the goals seem to pour in," Bruton said of Sims.
Fairfield Prep (18-2-1) put it away in the 49th minute on David Bigley's goal from close range. It was 4-0 minutes later when Luis Zamora found space at the edge of the penalty area and slotted it inside the near post past Souza. "We came with a gameplan to frustrate them," Howard said. "They were too strong technically."
It meant the only drama remaining for the final 20-odd minutes was if any of the Jesuits reserve players would find the scoresheet after both teams cleared their benches. With seven minutes to go Prep senior Austin Trotta found some space and scored his first goal of the season to complete the rout. "He worked hard through injuries," Lyddy said. "I think that just made his senior season."
Class LL second round NEW MILFORD 0 0--0 FAIRFIELD PREP 2 3--5
Records: New Milford 10-5-3; Fairfield Prep 18-2-1; Goals: FP--Austin Sims, Chris Molina, David Bigley, Luis Zamora; Assists: FP--Davie Bruton, Sims 2, Zamora; Goalies: NM--Evan Souza (5 saves), Nicholas Eherts (0); FP--Will Steiner (0), Alex Pinkus (1).
Fairfield Prep survives upset bid by Fairfield Ludlowe
FAIRFIELD -- The Fairfield Prep boys soccer team is widely considered one of the favorites to compete for the Class LL state crown. But without freshmen Djimon Johnson and Chris Molina, the Jesuits may not even have survived the tournament's first round. Molina and Johnson teamed up for the game's lone goal as the third-seeded Jesuits held off No. 29 Fairfield Ludlowe 1-0 in the Class LL state tournament's first round on Friday at Alumni Field.
"Those guys have earned our respect," Prep coach Ryan Lyddy said of Johnson and Molina. "I think some of the seniors on this team feed off them, because they play so simply and simplicity works." The Jesuits advance to Monday's second round where they will play the winner of Hall/New Milford. No. 14 Hall will play host to 19th-seeded New Milford Saturday at 11 a.m.
Falcons' goalkeeper Ryan Arrigo stopped six shots as Ludlowe ended its season 6-9-2. "It's always disappointing when you lose," Ludlowe coach Kevin O'Hara said. "I'm very proud of my boys, (Prep) is a very strong team." The Falcons were able to contain Prep's offense until late in the second half when Molina -- a Fairfield resident on the Warde side of town -- potted the second goal of his freshman year with just 13:51 to play in regulation. "It's always great to beat the rival, even if I'm not at Warde," Molina said.
Johnson ran up right wing, sending a cross squarely on Molina's foot. The forward outmuscled a Ludlowe defender and redirected Johnson's cross over Arrigo's shoulder, putting the Jesuits ahead 1-0. "They didn't get behind us until that goal," O'Hara said. "It was a great ball and a great finish, you have to tip your hat."
"That was all I could do was backside curve it into the back of the net," Molina said.
Prep keeper Will Steiner stopped two shots -- including a stellar, point-blank stop on Ludlowe's Henry Kreitler in the 43rd minute to keep the game scoreless. "Steiner has been a starter here for three years and his leadership is extraordinary," Lyddy said. "In big games he leads by example."
Ludlowe was forced to play much of the game without dynamic senior forward Arda Kocturk, who left early in the first half with an apparent ankle injury. "We had our injuries to deal with," O'Hara said. "To me, with kids stepping up who I didn't expect to step up, I can't complain.
WEST HAVEN — Branford wouldn’t have been the trendy pick to reach Tuesday’s Southern Connecticut Conference boys’ soccer final, but here the Hornets were.
After disposing of Guilford and Amity in the first two rounds of the SCC tournament, Fairfield Prep awaited in the final. Branford went toe to toe with the defending champion.
But Kieran Bracken’s first-half goal was all top-seeded Fairfield Prep needed to clinch its second straight SCC title 1-0 at Ken Strong Stadium. “I took advantage of one of their mistakes. I just wanted the goal, so I took it,” Bracken said.
No. 3 Branford (12-3-4) was not only making its first appearance in a SCC final, but also had never won a SCC tournament game prior to this season.
Then while trying to get the equalizer on Tuesday, pushing and shoving between the teams ensued midway through the second half. Branford’s John Ainson received a red card while Pat Connolly got a yellow card. The Hornets had to play a man down the rest of the game.
“The effort tonight was absolutely fabulous. Prep’s a real tough team. They’re (Class) LL, sort of like a Premier team and we basically have a town team, a club team,” Branford coach Paul Hunter said.
The news got worse for the Hornets as senior Julian Pino suffered a knee injury that will force him to miss the Class L state tournament, according to Hunter.
But Branford managed to get some shots in despite the disadvantage. Jaryd Hobbs actually made an apparent goal with 6:42 left, but that was disallowed because he committed a foul just prior to the goal.
Then Max Condon blasted a shot attempt over the crossbar in the final minute.
Bracken scored in the 31st minute for the Jesuits (16-2-1). Goalkeeper Will Steiner was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, allowing just one goal in three games.
“We told these guys at state tournament time, we need to find a way to win. We did the other night and now, you saw it again today,” Fairfield Prep coach Ryan Lyddy said.
Steiner’s counterpart, Jared Keck, made eight saves under heavy duress. This is his first season playing soccer.
“If you were looking for an MVP, I would nominate Jared,” Hunter said. “He came up with big saves all over the place. ... For a kid who never played soccer until this past August and the work that (assistant coach) Bob Faulkner did with him to bring him to the place he is right now, you would have thought the kid would have been playing goal for six or eight years watching him play in the field the way he did.”
FAIRFIELD -- Like countless others in and around Fairfield County, the Fairfield Prep soccer team spent the previous week digging out and cleaning up in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Even without electricity for most of the week, the Jesuits knew they had to maintain their focus with an SCC semifinal against Xavier looming on Saturday morning regardless of whether their power had been restored.
And that message -- stay focused -- was something the players and coaching staff, whether through group phone calls or Facebook posts, kept stressing even as they had little else to do to keep themselves occupied. The message to stay on task paid off as Fairfield Prep booked a return trip to the SCC championship game, defeating Xavier 2-1 at Alumni Stadium. "This is back to normal, right here," Jesuits coach Ryan Lyddy said.
Prep, the defending SCC champion, defeated Xavier twice in the regular season by a combined 8-2 margin. Saturday's encounter was a repeat of much of the same with the Jesuits' suffocating possession-based game leaving the Falcons little opportunity to bother Will Steiner's goal. For all that possession, Prep had little to show for it after the first 40 minutes.
"We said at halftime, if we're patient, we're going to win this game, and I think that's the best advice the coaching staff could have gave, and it showed," Lyddy said. With 15 minutes gone by in the second half, Davie Bruton put Prep up 1-0 when he placed a rebound from an initial shot by Djimon Johnson by Xavier keeper Zach Camner into the lower right corner. "It came at me pretty fast so I knew I wanted to make good contact," Bruton said.
The Jesuits doubled their advantage with eight minutes to go when Stephen Tortora muscled off a challenge inside the Xavier penalty area and powered a shot by Camner. Xavier got a late consolation goal in the 79th minute when Adam Boyington capitalized on a rare Prep defensive lapse, beating an onrushing Steiner with a low shot. "They have so many weapons offensively," Xavier coach Brian Fitzgerald said. "Between the midfielders and the forwards, they keep constant pressure, they keep coming up and up."
Despite minimal organized practice time ahead of the game, Prep looked no worse for wear. Lyddy works on the grounds crew at Fairfield University and said he would return to cutting down fallen trees as soon as the game was over, but not before praising his team for staying sharp.
"We said soccer is the least on everyone's mind," said Lyddy, who had homes in both Newtown and the Fairfield shoreline damaged by Sandy. "These guys are committed to Prep and they took it in their own hands and worked out on their own. That showed today and we were very loose." Saturday's game was a welcome respite for the players waiting to get back to a normal routine. "I kind of had nothing to do all week so I was looking forward to this and just get out there and play," Bruton said.
Fairfield Prep plays the winner of Monday's Amity/Branford semifinal Tuesday night at 7:30 at West Haven. The Jesuits are 2-2 all time in the SCC championship game, winning it in 2005 and 2011.