GREENWICH — Though initially it was a challenge, patience paid off for the Greenwich High School boys soccer team in its state tournament game against Hamden on Monday.
Attempting to neutralize the Cardinals’ scoring prowess, the Green Hornets had all of its players situated past midfield in the hopes of preventing Greenwich from sending long passes down the field.
The strategy worked in the first half, as the game was scoreless, but the Cardinals found just enough openings in the second half to capitalize.
Tallying twice in the second half, 11th-seeded Greenwich topped 22nd-seeded Hamden, 2-0, in the first round of the CIAC Class LL Tournament at Cardinal Stadium. Greenwich (15-4-1) advanced to Wednesday’s Round of 16 matchup, where it will visit defending Class LL champion Farmington (12-2-3), the No. 6 seed.
Sophomore Francisco Liguori scored in the 57th minute and junior Woojin Kwak tallied with 6:15 remaining for the Cardinals, who entered the game fresh off defeating Trumbull for their second straight FCIAC title.
“The first half we struggled to create chances for ourself, but the key for us was to not get frustrated,” Liguori said. “We kept putting pressure on them, remained positive and played with a lot of heart.”
Added Cardinals junior captain/goalie Jimmy Johnson: “The way we played today was sufficient for Hamden’s style of play. We were adjusting to their system. They wanted to play more of a controlled game by not pressing us too much.”
Indeed, the visitors wanted to slow the game down, while looking for chances themselves.
“The first half we stuck to our game plan,” Hamden coach Raffaele Romano said. “We sat in 60 yards and didn’t start pressuring them until they got to the 50. We wanted to stay compact. We wanted a bunch of games on film, so we knew they like to play the long ball. We wanted to deny that and invite them to come to our half, win the ball and counter on them.”
Following a scoreless first half, GHS began generating scoring chances in the second. Wide open after receiving a pass from sophomore defender Thomas Lewis, Liguori booted a right-footed shot from 30 yards out that eluded the outstretched arms of Hamden senior goalie Marcus Anthony Carrington, giving the Cards a 1-0 lead at the 24:08 mark of the second half. Liguori’s shot settled inside the left post.
“They didn’t want us to play an open game and they made us carry the ball over the halfway line,” GHS coach Kurt Putnam said. “They were effective with their game plan in the first half. The second half, it opened up for us. We have to learn to be patient.”
Kwak secured the victory when he scored off a feed from senior Kai Jennings in the 73rd minute, making it 2-0.
“I saw Kai running down the line and I just gambled, going right behind him and I hit it in,” Kwak said. “We might be facing Farmington on Wednesday, so this really sets us up for that game. Sometimes we lost patience today and they countered us, but we were patient most of the time.”
Greenwich almost scored on several other occasions in the second half, but Carrington made saves off shots from Liguori and senior forward Fermin Mendive.
“Greenwich is a good team, they are the FCIAC champions and we have a lot of respect for them,” Romano said. “I’m really proud of our team, finishing with a record of 8-4-4, which is one of the best teams Hamden has had. We should be strong again next year.”
Johnson made three saves in goal for the Cards, while Carrington, who was supported by defenders Declan Ryan and Philip Kaye, stopped 13 shots.