BOYS SOCCER: Top programs wear bullseye
As the final whistle blew concluding the 1-1 opening game of the season between the McMahon and Greenwich boys soccer teams, the players from McMahon came off the pitch like they had just won a postseason game.
McMahon had played five defenders in the back, took advantage of its one quality scoring opportunity and got out of the game more they could have hoped for, gaining the tie and one point in the standings.
It was as good of a game McMahon has played in several seasons and the players clearly left it all out on the field in an effort to hang with one the top dog in the FCIAC the last five years.
“Every game is going to be like this,” a Greenwich defender bellowed at his teammates.
Indeed, the success Greenwich has had in recent seasons, winning 3 of the last 5 FCIAC championships, has fostered an increased competitiveness in its opponents.
Now, whenever Greenwich takes the field, the team on the other side sees is as a golden opportunity to knock off the best.
“Every team comes in treating us like their final. You can see that with how they play us,” Greenwich coach Kurt Putnam said. “We know every team is going to come out and give 100% against us. More so because we have the respect and the record now. It is the way everybody used to treat Staples back in 2009, 2010. It’s no different except we find ourselves now as that team. I don’t prepare them any differently now, the expectations for the players are the same as they have been.”
This season, Greenwich has the talent on the roster to rise to the challenge of being the marked team in the league with several All-State caliber players returning from last season.
Another team with a ton of talent back on the pitch and one that also wears a giant bullseye because of recent success if Farmington.
Since 2010, the Indians have won four state championships and have a senior-laden team as they go for the Class LL crown this season.
Farmington knows that it will always get the best effort of every opponent but if a game is hanging in the balance late, that gets ramped up to an even more intense level.
“When there are 15 or 20 minutes left in a game and you are only winning by one or you’re tied, there is a lot that goes on in those final minutes and teams really push a little more against us,” Farmington coach Steve Waters said. “Our goal is to win the next game. That’s how we go. You can’t get to the last game unless you win the one before it.”
The Farmington players take the same approach, taking it game by game but also realizing they are getting everybody’s best shot.
“Coach gets everything out of us and he knows how to bring our team together,” Farmington defender Brennan Hughes said. “Our focus has to be taking each game one-at-a-time. We have to make sure we get the results every game and we want to play our hearts out and play the hardest soccer that we can every game knowing that our opponents will be playing the same way against us.”
Glastonbury is in a similar boat with Farmington, winning four of the last five Class LL state titles.
However, Glastonbury has few more holes to fill this season but will still be a favorite in the state tournament come November.
Glastonbury coach Mark Landers said his team needs to focus on itself and not the fact that it would make the season for some of its opponent to defeat them.
“We don’t worry too much about that stuff. We try to work on getting better every day,” Landers said. “I think, right now, we have a lot of intelligent soccer players, but we have a lot of selfishness to our game where we have guys trying to do too much and we were not remotely close to playing together as a team.”
Ridgefield has not won a state championship since 2013 but routinely finds itself as one of the best teams in the FCIAC and the state.
After graduating 20 players from last year’s team which finished 12-3-1, the Tigers are fielding a team lacking varsity experience.
Despite the turnover on the team, opponents only see the “Ridgefield” across their chests, viewing them as that perennial contender rather than a team trying to find itself.
“I don’t know why because we haven’t won a state championship in four years. Every time an opponent scores on us it seems like the biggest event of all time,” Ridgefield coach Phil Bergen said. “Maybe, reversely, that’s what is keeping our kids from being really energetic because they are hesitant. They too feel the pressure of that success. None of these kids saw much playing time last fall. We had 20 seniors last year, all of which were pretty good. These guys are still getting their bearings and hopefully they will figure it out.”
That scenario for Ridgefield is the heart of high school sports.
Players come and go and graduate, leaving voids on the field to be filled by players that had nothing to do with the recent championships.
Yet, it becomes the responsibility of those players to keep taking the best shots of every team they face.
That is what has made the sustained success of Farmington and Glastonbury on the state level and Greenwich at the local level that much more remarkable.