Mike DiMauro: Futbol or football: Has soccer eclipsed football in the ECC?

·4 min read

Oct. 13—LEDYARD — Our corner of the world normally reflects societal sporting whims at this time of year, preferring high school football as its primary autumn bent, all the way back to New London's unbeaten team in '68 — and probably well before that, too. We've been awash in enough Majors, Fletchers, DuBoses and Reeds to come by our inclinations honestly, too.

Ah, but nostalgia, as the old line goes, ain't what it used to be. Neither is the quality of football. All of which leads to the following observation: It is premature to suggest that soccer's productivity and influence have surpassed football around here. But the quality of play in the fall of 2021 isn't a fair fight. It is futbol over football ... by two touchdowns.

To wit: Two ECC soccer programs (Ledyard, Stonington) are ranked in the top 10 in the latest Class M/S poll. Three players — Daimon Pollard and Nick Washington at Ledyard and Providence-bound Sam Montalto at Stonington — are among the state's top 10. And the mark of any really good league: The no-name team in the middle suddenly emerges and starts throwing everyone else down a flight of stairs.

It happened Tuesday night at Bill Mignault Field, a lawn known for more for football since Mignault, the late, great patriarch of Ledyard sports, once said, "soccer is a great game. If I have a daughter, she'll play it."

Except that the Colonels are the state's No. 1 boys' soccer team — or were at least before Fitch beat them 3-1. The Sons of Fitch have beaten two top 10 teams (also blanking No. 8 Ellington last week) in the past 10 days. Not bad for a team receiving nary a vote in the latest polls.

"Twelve years ago when I took this job," Fitch coach Jay Wolfradt said, "I never imagined being as strong as we are and not even being talked about. So we tuck that away and go 'now we'll show you on the field.'"

And how. Fitch is exactly the kind of team that can make a state tournament run from nowhere. That's what happens when you play in a good league against good players and good teams. Every night. Suddenly, the state tournament hits and the supposedly heralded competition looks ordinary.

"We don't mind being the guys nobody talks about," Wolfradt said. "We want to be the team that is so battled tested, we'll look at a tournament opponent and go, 'just another game for us.'"

That's what happens when the league competition is consistent. Two top 10 teams. Three elite players. But then, Fitch, Bacon Academy, East Lyme, Waterford and Woodstock aren't so bad either.

It's also what the ECC doesn't have in football. There are some decent teams, Killingly and Ledyard among them. But football's talent and depth isn't close to soccer's right now. Could be a hiccup. Could be a trend. The latter might be the better bet, given the burgeoning communal belief that writhing concussions and debilitating injuries are inevitable byproducts of playing football. They're not, of course. But people aren't as smart as they used to be.

So for now, we salute futbol. Fitch, especially.

"They just beat two top 10 teams in nine days," Ledyard coach Bill Glenney said. "They may not have that one scorer, that one guy, but they are so well rounded and play together so well. The energy is tough to combat.

"This league is good. Stonington is good. Fitch is good. I think we're pretty good. Bacon is dangerous. East Lyme is good. Waterford just beat Fitch. Then Woodstock beats Bacon. There's a lot of good players in the league who can change the way games are played."

Things are so good at Fitch that even the parents like Wolfradt. (No, really.)

"He has done an incredible job with these boys," said Matt Forde, whose son, Thomas, is a Fitch senior captain. "Jay is so invested in them on and off the field. The boys will run through walls for him."

They've run through two top 10 teams in the last two weeks, too. And the best example yet that we are a soccer league here in 2021. So hop on the bandwagon. Plenty of room for all.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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