Darien boys soccer in states and closing in on FCIAC playoff berth
As far back as the preseason, then the beginning of the regular season, and even right around mid-season, Darien boys soccer coach Jonathan Bradley has maintained the same mantra for his players in 2018.
“We don’t want our season to end Oct. 23,” the Blue Wave’s eighth-year head coach kept repeating every opportunity he had.
The reference was clear. Oct. 23 is the day of Darien’s last regular-season game and the only way the 2018 season ends on that day is if the Blue Wave misses the postseason for a second consecutive year.
Last year, the season did end on Oct. 23 as a young Darien squad, with 11 new starters, closed out a disappointing 3-10-3 season.
Of course, Bradley and the Blue Wave were used to playing well into November, having won three straight Eastern Division championships, including the 2015 season which saw DHS go 16-3-5 and reach the FCIAC and Class LL finals.
And, in case you were wondering, that season ended Nov. 21.
After a thrilling 2-1 road win over Fairfield Ludlowe on Oct. 8, a game in which junior Will Harmon scored the game-winner with six seconds left to play, Bradley’s season-long battle cry was granted. The Blue Wave will not be putting the soccer balls away in the month of October.
Monday’s victory gave Darien a 5-3-3 record and 13 points, the magic number to clinch a return trip to the state tournament, which begins the first week of November.
“It’s nice to lock up a spot in the state tournament with five games to go,” Bradley said. “It makes life a lot easier.”
Darien has since picked up a 2-1 win against rival New Canaan, and played to a scoreless tie with Staples, moving its record to 6-3-4 with three games remaining in the regular season. That gives the Wave 22 points and places them seventh in the FCIAC.
Depending on how those final three games turn out, Darien may find itself playing the final week of October in the FCIAC playoffs.
Darien plays back-to-back games against Westhill at home on Thursday night and at St. Joe’s Friday afternoon, and then closes the season against a playoff-bound Norwalk High team at NHS on — you got it — Oct. 23.
Thanks to the exciting win over Fairfield Ludlowe, the Darien players know they’ll be still playing after that date. Hopefully, well beyond it.
“It was a big relief last night to win that game,” Bradley said Tuesday morning. “Everyone knows now we’re back in the postseason. But we’re not satisfied. We have five games to go and we want to go undefeated.
“It’s nice that we’re in, but I told the kids we still have a lot to learn and improve on. We’re not afraid of anyone. But we have to keep plugging.”
Against Fairfield Ludlowe, Darien led 1-0 on a goal by senior captain Johann Trippitelli, only to see the home team tie it with two minutes to go.
As the final seconds ticked away, it appeared the Blue Wave was going to have to settle for a tie, pick up a point and delay the postseason-clinching celebration till another day.
But DHS was awarded a free kick with 45 seconds remaining and Harmon was on the receiving end and in perfect position to fire it into the Ludlowe net and send the Blue Wave back to the state tournament after a one-year hiatus.
Darien cleverly waited a few extra seconds before taking the free kick.
“We waited so we could have one last shot,” Bradley explained. “We got it in the box and he kicked it in. After that, we just had to survive the last six seconds.”
The win couldn’t have come at a better time, either. After a promising 3-0-1 start, Darien went 0-2-2 in its next four games and 2-3-4 in its last nine contests.
“We really needed that one,” a relieved Bradley said the morning after beating Ludlowe, a few hours before boarding the team bus and heading to New Canaan to defeat the Rams. “The biggest thing now is no letdown. We have to focus and get a win versus New Canaan.”