The Mattituck boys soccer team sure has firepower. Of that there can be no doubt. But when offensive-minded types make runs and push forward as they hunt for goals, somebody has to stay back and mind the store.
That’s where Tyler Connell comes in.
Connell brings Mattituck insurance, if you will, as a defensive midfielder.
It appears as if Connell has a defined role now, something that wasn’t so clear last fall during his junior season. He started out as a defender for the first half of the season before being moved to left wing. The Tuckers had some defensive issues that they hope to sort out, and Connell plays a big part in those plans.
What Connell does may not be glamorous work, but it’s vital. “Every team needs water carriers, whether or not they realize it, and Tyler is the consummate water carrier,” said Will Hayes, who coaches Mattituck’s summer team.
As Hayes sees it, Connell’s job can be summed up this way: Win the ball and move the ball.
Plain, simple and oh so important.
“I like playing in the center midfield because I like being able to see the whole field,” Connell said. “I can use both feet and I think I can make things happen.”
Another senior center midfielder, David Burkhardt, is a left-footed player, like Connell, but also different. Burkhardt is always on the lookout to go forward. For the Tuckers, it’s nice to know that Connell is covering for him in the back.
“He’s very, very, very direct,” Hayes said of Burkhardt. “All of his touches are attacking touches. He’s got panache with the ball. He can do a lot of things.”
During the last school season, Mattituck played a 4-4-2 formation with a flat-back four. The center midfielders, Burkhardt and Christian Tettelbach, covered for each other when the other joined the attack.
Burkhardt said he would like to see the Tuckers adopt a 4-3-2-1 formation, with five midfielders, three attacking and two defensive. That way, he said, the Tuckers could make use of their attacking personnel, “try to overwhelm the other team with goals, not worry about defense too much.”
What does Connell think about a five-midfielder formation?
“I think it is an idea we should test out,” he said. “This is the time to be testing out new things. We’re going to see how that works. Personally, I think that can help, but we need to be strong on defense.”
Whatever formation the Tuckers settle on in September, there is a good chance that Burkhardt, James Hayes (the coach’s younger brother) and Connell will be a part of it.
The midfield is the glue that connects the defense to the front line. Connell knows full well how important the midfield is to a team’s success?
“It’s the core,” he said. “If you control the midfield, you can control the game.”
Will Hayes said the composition and look of the midfield is one of the team’s few question marks. But the Tuckers seem to have a wealth of options. Players such as Kevin Williams, Kaan Ilgin, Stephen Urwand and Mario Arreola could be used as wings.
“It’s all about personnel, really,” Will Hayes said. “For us, because we have a lot of options, our midfield is going to be a very big strength for us. We have some very capable players who can create and defend.”
The Tuckers have learned just how valuable Connell is to their team. He has played in all six of their games so far in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League. When he isn’t on the field, his absence is noticed.
“Every minute that he has been out [for a substitute], we have had a problem in our midfield because somebody is not covering,” Will Hayes said. “Tyler is kind of the linchpin who holds the team together, regardless of who we have at center back or who we have next to him in midfield. He’s always doing his job.”
Although he is valued for his defensive ability, Connell is not considered a true back-line defender by Will Hayes. The coach said Connell doesn’t have the pace to be a defender, but he is good at playing right in front of the defense and making good decisions with the ball. In addition, he makes his teammates better.
“What he does for us on the field is immense because he takes on the defensive duties of David Burkhardt when he’s in midfield or James Hayes when he’s in midfield,” Will Hayes said. “He allows them to be more creative by assuming that defensive role, which is huge for us.”
It’s ironic that for a player with defensive responsibility, Connell was the one who scored Mattituck’s first goal in a 5-1 thrashing of Harborfields on Monday night at Diamond in the Pines in Coram. Connell was in the right spot at the right time less than six minutes into the match when a ball bounced back his way.
“I was going to give it a shot,” he said of his only attempt at goal in the game.
He did, too, striking a first-time effort into the net for a 1-0 lead. Although it was Connell’s first goal of the summer, Will Hayes said it summed up Connell “because he’s in the right spot.”
Connell had 30 touches on the ball and connected on 21 of 25 passes.
The Tuckers (3-1-2), who traded places with Harborfields (3-3) in the standings by moving into fifth place, posted a season-high goal total. Williams snapped a 1-1 tie in the 25th minute after a long forward ball from Paul Hayes sailed over a couple of heads and into Williams’ path. Two minutes later, Ryan Finger settled a corner kick from Evan Neighley in the penalty area before pushing it in. An own goal brought the Tuckers their fourth goal in the 35th minute, and Urwand scored off an assist by Williams in the 58th minute.
Finger came within inches of netting himself a second goal, cranking a blast off the crossbar in the 37th minute.
The result the Tuckers earned is what Connell may find most satisfying about soccer.
“I love the game,” he said. “I really love winning. I hate to lose, but who doesn’t? I really love when every single person on the team plays well, does their role right, because that’s perfect. If we can do that every game, we’re going to be very hard to beat.”