Dutchmen soccer conquers Class AA
COLONIE — Wanting to win a sectional title ever since they were young boys, the Guilderland soccer players fully realized their dream on Monday night. Other teams had claimed to be the best in Class AA, but the Dutchmen were left standing tall in the frigid air.
“We’ve had this drive, this goal since we were little,” said Guilderland senior Connor O’Brien, who set up the Dutch’s first and last goals in the 4-to-1 win over Albany with spectacular free kicks. “It’s done,” he said after the game. “We’re something special.”
Guilderland had lost to Albany in the playoffs last season after a round of penalty kicks decided a scoreless game. Monday night, the Dutch had no problem scoring goals.
“We wanted this really bad,” said senior Connor Rubin, who put Guilderland ahead, 2 to 0, just eight minutes into the game after splitting two Albany defenders, and surprising goalie Luca Phayre-Gonzalez with a left-footed shot.
The Dutchmen came into Monday’s cold Class AA final with fire and passion. Just short of three minutes into the contest, senior Jack Hanlon scored for Guilderland off a long set kick by O’Brien; Hanlon touched it into the net at the near post.
After the goal, O’Brien ran towards the Red Sea, the fans pulsating in the school’s color, beating his chest.
For the entire season, the Dutchmen had been undefeated when scoring first. Like any winner, Guilderland plays not to lose.
“We knew that statistic was most important,” Head Coach Mike Kinnally said. He won a title with Guilderland in 2008. “Once we scored first, we rode that wave,” he said. “Albany outplayed us for the last 20 minutes of the first half, and for the next 10 minutes of the second half, but we weathered the storm.”
The Falcons may have had better foot skills, and a majority of the possession, but Guilderland kept countering the attack. When a scoring chance was presented, the Dutch didn’t squander the opportunity.
“We just wanted to get through the half,” O’Brien said of having a lead in the first half.
With just under two minutes left in the first half, Albany’s Erick Kwizera had the ball deflected to his feet, scoring on a shot that was placed in the top right corner of the goal. Later, 13 minutes into the second half, Guilderland’s Kledis Cappollari beat his defender to the end line, crossing the ball, which was then put into the goal by a converging Keagen Ciaschetti.
Cappollari and Ciaschetti embraced after the goal, putting Guilderland up, 3 to 1, as the Red Sea bordered on hysteria.
“Now, they’re scoring not just on restarts; they believe in themselves,” Kinnally said of his players. “This is gravy for us, but some people didn’t really believe in us; there’s no stress. Albany wants to be number one, Shenendehowa is claiming to be number one; we weren’t, we don’t have to defend anything.”
Guilderland is now the Class AA champion, the number-one team.
“It feels great,” said Kinnally.
“We had the goal of winning this when tryouts started,” O’Brien added. “We decided to do it.”
The Dutchmen defense has been exceptional all season — giving up only 20 goals over 19 games — and had to repel the many efforts of Albany on Monday evening. Guilderland goalie, Kedrick Weeden, made some nice saves, including one on a free kick by Kwizera, which curled around a wall of Dutch players.
Kinnally told The Enterprise that he shuffled his players’ positions two or three different times during the match, knowing the type of tendencies and strengths the Falcons had.
“We bent, but didn’t break,” said Kinnally of the Dutch defense. “Really, it’s a lot easier to play defense when you score goals. Every time they [Albany] pressured, we countered and got another goal. The confidence kept building up.”
With fans practically teetering the sidelines in Colonie — being asked to move back several times during the game — bells, whistles, chants, and horns rang out from the crowd. It was a great atmosphere for soccer, which continues to grow in the Northeast.
Guilderland put the game out of reach with eight minutes remaining in regulation play. Cappollari, while falling to the ground at the near post, scored on O’Brien’s low, skipping free kick. Again, O’Brien went at the Red Sea, beating his chest.
“We’re coming together,” said O’Brien after the game.
“We’re starting to love each other a little more everyday,” Rubin added.
Guilderland has conquered its goal of winning sectionals, and will now embark on a state title run. The Dutch play either Baldwinsville or Fayetteville-Manlius on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Colonie.
Kinnally was smiling after Guilderland (15-4-0, ranked ninth in the State) won the title, but he had the stone face of serious business during the game.
“When we lose, we take the heat, and when we win, we get the glory,” he said. “Our job as coaches is to create memories, and that’s what this is.”