Montville - There are no more soccer games left this year at Montville High School. The newly turfed lawn of the 06353 did its final official duty Tuesday night, housing the event known as the state Class M quarterfinals.
And the home season ended happily enough, a victory over Ledyard. Happy faces all around. Except that no more home games means no more watching the Montville players enter the field in lockstep precision: between the bleachers, through the fence, two by two. No more seeing those cool, bench shelters that protect "the boys," as coach Colin Delaney affectionately refers to his lads, from the elements. No more hearing public address announcer Ruben Diaz yell "gooooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaalllllllll Montvillllllllllllle."
And the worst part: No more Sinatra ("New York, New York") after victories.
Now the Indians are off to some other outpost for the state semifinals. How fitting that the geographical distance is metaphorical, too, illustrating how perhaps Montville goes from The Team They'd All Love To Beat around here to relatively anonymous to the folks of northern Connecticut.
Montville plays Suffield in the state semifinals at 1 p.m. Saturday in Middletown. That's defending state Class M champ Suffield, seeking the school's eighth boys' soccer state title.
Vegas would make it a pick 'em as to whether the folks of Suffield, a hamlet near Bradley International Airport, could find Montville on a map. (Maybe a Mohegan Sun hint would help). And who knows if any of them realize this is Montville's third straight trip to the state semifinals?
Even if they do, it's doubtful they care. Loyalists of the North Central Connecticut Conference (Avon, Suffield, Granby, etc.) get plenty proprietary about their game, acknowledging that perhaps only the notable exceptions of Brazil and Italy do it better.
Sayeth Montville's Connor Leeman: "I hope they're ready to play us. We're ready to play them. They definitely feel they think they're hot stuff. We are, too."
Atta boy, Connor. You tell 'em. It's time the ECC flexed a little. Montville and Bacon were top five teams most of the season. The East Lyme girls are still undefeated.
And yet the ECC is considered nothing more than a perennial mid-major (if that) in Connecticut soccer.
"I don't buy into whole respect thing. We make our bed and we're going to lie in it," Delaney said. "Whether we have the respect of other conferences in the state is not really my concern.
"Our body of work, no matter where we are in the state, has developed a tradition of success. We've been (high) in the state poll for the last three or four years. There's a sense that sometimes certain divisions in the state think they're above others. To me, it's any given year."
Delaney's line, "tradition of success," probably just made some of his colleagues within the league roll their eyes. Some of them believe Delaney does politicking with coaches throughout Connecticut to get all-state votes for his players. Other coaches bristle at the technical terms Delaney often employs in casual conversation.
You wonder how many of them, however, are jealous of the program. Because that's what Delaney has wrought: a program. His games are events now. They drew nice crowds for the ECC final and Tuesday's night's game with Ledyard. It's all part of the production: turf, lights, lockstep precision, soccer shelters, starting lineups, "the boys," Sinatra.
It wasn't long ago when, all in all, Montville soccer was just another brick in the wall. It was lost in all the other fall teams across the region who fail to distinguish themselves. Now they enter next season with a three-year undefeated streak on their home field.
Pretty darn impressive.
Almost as impressive as if Delaney, an assistant baseball coach, could convince head coach Phil Orbe to add Sinatra to the gameday repertoire of the baseball program. Orbe, a Sox fan, is likely more partial to "Dirty Water."
"When Phil shows up to soccer and hears that song," Delaney said, "he tends to walk away. I've been coaching baseball with him a while now, though, and he hasn't fired me yet."
Orbe's program and its three state titles remains the jewel of the school. Football is always football. But from nowhere, Delaney has created events on fall evenings. They get to show the state again this weekend that Montville is about more than baseball, a casino and Ed's Kitchen. Make room for soccer.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.