Norwalk boys soccer falls to Greenwich in FCIAC quarters
By David Fierro
GREENWICH — Frustration turned into optimism in just a couple of blinks of the eye for the Greenwich Hboys soccer team Friday night against Norwalk.
Trailing eighth-seeded Norwalk by a goal in Friday’s FCIAC touranament quarterfinals, top-seeded Greenwich evened the score by tallying with only 5.3 seconds left in the first half — a goal that helped the Cardinals breathe easier and play stronger.
Showing why it entered the tournament unbeaten, Greenwich turned up its level of play in the second half and turned away Norwalk, posting a 4-1 win at Cardinal Stadium. Greenwich (15-0-2) advanced to Monday’s FCIAC semifinals at Fairfield Ludlowe High School where they will play either fifth-seeded Wilton or fourth-seeded Staples.
Seniors Will Gittings, Ryan Flippin and Patrick Santini and junior Dan Ozizmir eached tallied for the Cardinals, who outscored the Bears 3-0 during the second half.
“Norwalk had a game plan and for 39 and-a-half minutes it worked,” GHS coach Kurt Putnam said. “They scored that first goal on their first opporunity and you say to yourself, “Oh my God is this how it’s going to be?”
“But this team is resilient, even when they let in goals they come straight back. That goal we scored just before halftime knocked the wind right out of Norwalk.”
Greenwich’s game-tying goal came off a set piece. Senior Mateo Gowland’s corner kick was headed by junior Paul Quiroga in the box and Flippin got his foot on the loose ball, knocking a short shot past Bears goalie Tyler Dalton with 5.3 seconds to go before halftime.
“We have so many weapons on our set pieces, I was just in the right place at the right time and put it in from a few feet away,” Flippin said. “We all loosened up a little bit after that goal.”
Norwalk, which shared the FCIAC championship with Ridgefield last fall before winning the Class LL title, allowed two goals the first five minutes of action in its 3-0 regular season loss to Greenwich. The scenario was different Friday though with the Bears playing inspired soccer from the start.
Though the Cards controlled possession and peppered shots at Dalton throughout the opening half, the Bears scored the game’s first goal. Senior Jon Ceja’s free kick went off the hands of GHS senior goalie Santiago Irigoyen and senior Sergio Mandujano booted home the rebound, making it a 1-0 game in the 31st minute.
“I’m really proud of the kids for playing hard until the final whistle,” Norwalk coach Chris Laughton said. “We played a much more spirited game and a tougher game this time than the first time we played them. We stuck to the game plan in the first half and got our goal.”
That game plan entailed keeping numbers behind the ball and making Greenwich make quick decisions when it had possession. The Cardinals made a key adjustment in the second half, moving Gittings up from the midfield to forward, enabling the 6-foot-4 senior to put more pressure on the Bears’ defense. The move quickly paid dividends, as Gittings tallied the go-ahead goal in the 47th minute.
Gowland served a long ball into the box and Gittings rose high, sending a header past Dalton inside the left post, putting Greenwich on top, 2-1.
“Having Will up top caused them loads of problems,” Putnam said. “He looks comfortable there with a lot of space for himself.”
Said Gowland: “As soon as we scored that first goal we knew we just had to pick it up to a new gear and get as many goals as possible. I knew I had to get the ball to our tall players in the box and let them put it in the back of the net.”
Santini gave the Cards a 3-1 advantage tallying from close in in the 52nd minute and Ozizmir scored off a feed from Gowland with 3:19 remaining, making it 4-1. Irigoyen, supported by strong play from defenders Jonathan Palmer and Flippin, made five saves in goal. Dalton, who was kept busy throughout the game, stopped 22 shots.
“The tough part about playing Greenwich is their size,” said Laughton, who credited Mandujano and Rene Jimenez for leading the team’s solid effort. “They are strong in the air, athletic and they can score in a variety of ways.”
Greenwich 4, Norwalk 1
NORWALK 1 0 — 1
GREENWICH 1 3 — 4
Records: Greenwich 15-0-2; Norwalk 7-7-3
Goals: N — Sergio Mandujano. G — Will Gittings, Ryan Flippin, Patrick Santini, Dan Ozizmir. Assists: N — Jon Ceja. G — Mateo Gowland 2, Paul Quiroga. Goalies: N — Tyler Dalton (22 saves); G — Santiago Irigoyen (5 saves).