Darien boys soccer team clinches state playoffs with scoreless tie against Norwalk
By Jon Chik
DARIEN — Squaring off against the top team in the FCIAC and entering play as a borderline FCIAC playoff team itself, the Darien boys soccer team knew it would take a monster effort to gain all-important points in the standings when it hosted Norwalk Tuesday afternoon.
Norwalk enjoyed a sizeable advantage in both time of possession and shots, particularly in the first half, but Darien goalie Jack Fisher and the rest of the Blue Wave defense never broke, enabling Darien to play 80 minutes of scoreless soccer in a 0-0 tie.
The deadlock boosted the Blue Wave’s record to 6-6-1 and a tie with Westhill for ninth place in the FCIAC standings. Both teams trail eighth place Danbury by three points.
“I think we were kind of neutral about (Norwalk’s 11-1 record). Record aside, they’re just a team that has as many players as we do,” Darien’s Brennan Branca said. “They have a lot of very good players, but if we stuck to playing hard and doing what we do best and just kind of fighting, then that was the only way we would have had a chance.”
The tie also pushed the Bears one step closer to clinching the top seed in the FCIAC tournament, as they currently hold a six-point lead over No. 2 Ridgefield.
“I think it’s obvious that we carried the play, but we just didn’t finish. Darien did a great job defensively,” Norwalk coach Chris Laughton said. “Our defense has been our backbone all year. Those guys have done a great job, and I thought they did a good job today eliminating opportunities for them.”
While keeping the ball on Darien’s side of the field for the majority of the first half, Norwalk had several chances to score, but a close-range shot by Kevin Josyln was denied by Darien goalie Jack Fisher, and Darien’s John Mackie also cleared a dangerous ball away from Norwalk’s Santiago Muriel.
Norwalk outshot Darien 20-3 on the afternoon, but Fisher came up with 11 saves to ensure his team a critical point in the standings.
“The defense was brilliant today. A lot of their efforts were from distance. I don’t think they had one breakaway and we trust our keeper to get the job done if they’ve got to shoot from 25 yards,” Darien coach Jon Bradley said. “I thoroughly don’t think we were lucky today. I thought the boys deserved that result.”
Darien’s scoring opportunities were few and far between, though it did come close to lighting the scoreboard midway through the second half. Ben Highton lofted a centering pass in the direction of Spencer McMullin, but McMullin’s header was just out of reach.
Norwalk applied pressure in the final minutes. Nacho Navarro made a quick move to get around a pair of Darien defenders and appeared to be going in for a one-on-one with Fisher with 1:40 remaining. In his attempt to control the bouncing ball, however, Navarro was whistled for a handball, allowing Darien to take possession.
A final long clear by Highton with 25 seconds remaining ensured that neither team would beat the buzzer.
Although its place in the FCIAC tournament is anything but a certainty, Darien did manage to lock up a spot in the state tournament with the tie, something which Norwalk had long since clinched.
“That’s what we’re fighting for. Last year it we obvious that we were going to go to states and FCIACs, but our goal this year was to just make it,” Branca said. “(Today’s game) definitely shows that when we put our minds to something we can definitely do it.”
“That’s always a goal is to finish the season stronger than we started and be playing our best soccer towards the end,” Laughton said.
NORWALK 0, DARIEN 0
NORWALK…………………………. 0 0–0
DARIEN………………………………. 0 0–0
Records: Norwalk 11-1-1; Darien 6-6-1.
Goalies: N–Svet Kozak (3 saves). D–Jack Fisher (11 saves). Shots: N-20; D-3.