Goal scoring is something just about every high school boys soccer coach worries about every now and then. What coach hasn’t wondered on occasion, “Where will the goals come from?”
Mat Litchhult may be asking himself the same question these days. Last year his Mattituck team produced scoring opportunities aplenty, but sometimes ran into difficulty exchanging those chances for goals. Fortunately for the Tuckers, they didn’t need many goals. They had a tight defense that conceded 22 goals in 19 games, helping Mattituck (11-7-1 last year) to a second straight Suffolk County Class B championship. The Tuckers lost, 1-0, to Wheatley in sudden-victory overtime of the Long Island final.
But Mattituck has lost its entire starting defense from 2011 and Litchhult is hoping for a more efficient offense this year.
“It was such a weird year for us,” said Litchhult, who takes a 131-41-13 (.708) record into his 11th season. “We never had that kind of regular season. It was such a roller coaster regular season. There were a lot of ups and downs. There were times when we played really nice soccer and created chances offensively, but we really couldn’t score.”
Litchhult knows full well how uneasy things can get when a team controls possession yet fails to crack the opposing defense as time winds down. “That tension mounts,” he said. “Once you break the ice, it becomes easier.”
Mattituck hasn’t had a pure goal scorer in the past couple of years, but it does have senior midfielder David Burkhardt, an all-county player in his third year as a varsity starter. “If we can get double digits from him, I think that would help out,” said Litchhult.
Seventeen returning players, including eight who started last year, also help. Litchhult said Burkhardt is the only one of his players who has won a position.
The Tuckers can be encouraged that they have skillful players such as senior forward Stephen Urwand, sophomore midfielder/forward Kevin Williams and sophomore forward Mario Arreola, who can help in the offensive third of the field. “I think we have some of the better attacking talent that we’ve had in a long time,” said Litchhult.
They are all returning starters along with senior defenders Ryan Finger and Evan Neighley, senior midfielder/defender Tyler Connell and sophomore midfielder Kaan Ilgin.
Further varsity experience is provided by defenders Connor Stumpf and Kevin Izzo; twins James and Paul Hayes, who can play defense or midfield; midfielders Dan Salice, Nick Sisino, Doug Beebe and Emre Ilgin; and forward Chris Baglivi.
Stephen Ostrowski, a junior, and K. C. Grathwohl, a senior, are competing for the starting goalkeeper position.
Among the new additions are strikers Oscar Puluc and Craig Birkmier, and defender/midfielder Walter Jacob.
“I think they all have the desire and the love just to play soccer,” Litchhult said. “They want to be out there every day.”
Mattituck has never won three county titles in a row during Litchhult’s time as coach. Being able to regularly put the ball in the net would go a long way toward achieving that end.
“I think we’re going to have some offensive chances,” Litchhult said. “That being said, are those chances going to turn into goals?”
That is the question that remains to be answered.
The Suffolk Class C final will not be played until Nov. 3, but one can already see the writing on the wall. Barring any upsets or unforeseen events, it appears likely that another showdown between rivals Southold and Port Jefferson will decide the county championship.
In last year’s county final, a powerful Port Jefferson team romped over Southold, 3-0. For Port Jefferson, it was its third straight county title and a step on the road to its first state championship. For Southold, the loss in the county final marked the start of its offseason and the process of working its way back to the county stage.
A postseason rematch may be in the works. The two League VIII teams will see each other twice during the regular season. Port Jefferson remains the loaded team that outscored Southold, 12-1, in the three games the teams played last fall. It sounds like the First Settlers have their work cut out for them.
“As long as we’re competitive and give ourselves a chance, that’s all we can really ask,” said Southold coach Andrew Sadowski, whose 18-year record is 208-96-16 (.650).
Southold (9-7-2) has a big plus in the form of Evan Miller. The senior midfielder, an all-state player entering his fourth varsity season, will undoubtedly be in the center of the action. Sadowski rates his 17-goal scorer from last year among the best players he has coached.
“I think it helps to have anyone of that caliber on your team,” the coach said. “But I think the biggest concern you have to have is that the rest of your teammates don’t end up ball-watching. Evan gets his teammates involved. He wants them involved. He wants to be successful.”
Miller has talented teammates to work with, too, such as senior midfielder Sean O’Donnell and junior midfielder Will Richter. O’Donnell was an all-conference selection last year and Richter was an all-league choice.
Prominent roles will be played by senior defender Rob Melley, junior midfielders Drew Sacher and Brian Hallock, and sophomore midfielder Zachary Ellis. Southold also received an unexpected plus with the transfer of Bereket Watts from Bishop McGann-Mercy. Watts, a sophomore midfielder, already has three varsity seasons under his belt.
Southold finds itself in the enviable position of having two reliable goalkeepers in senior Preston Jolliver and junior Kenji Fujita. Jolliver started last season in goal before a knee injury forced him to sit out most of the season, giving Fujita time between the goalposts. Sadowski said the two goalies are so even that the question of who plays on a given day may come down to which one is playing better at the time.
Among the returning players are defenders Rommel Reyes and Ben Glue and midfielders Muhammit Ilgin and Cole Hiney. Michael Shade, a midfielder, and Ryan DiGregorio, a defender, are new to the team.
“I’m pleased with their work rate as a team,” Sadowski said of his players. “They motivate each other, they push each other, and I think they have a lot of respect for each other.”
To ready itself for Port Jefferson and the rest of League VIII, Southold has a challenging non-league schedule that includes Southampton, Center Moriches and Hampton Bays.
“I think that we’re [going to be] competitive in every game,” Sadowski said. “I think that’s the first part of being successful.”
Player numbers are down for Greenport/Shelter Island (7-8-2) this year, so much so that one might have wondered if the Porters would be able to field a varsity team this year.
No need to worry on that front. Greenport/Shelter Island has a varsity team, just not a lot of players on it.
“We’re going to be thin on numbers,” said coach Chris Golden.
Golden expects the Porters to have no more than 13 players, but he said, “We’ll make it work.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. For one thing, the Porters have next to no room for injuries.
With the low numbers comes uncertainty. The team has only five returning players, but senior forward/midfielder Camilo Torres (9 goals, 7 assists), junior all-around player Erick Ramirez, senior defender Jesus Duran, junior midfielder Ryan Weingart and senior defender/forward Matt Dibble were all starters last year. Torres, a five-year varsity player, was an all-county pick last year, and Ramirez made the all-league team.
The returning players will not get much rest. “Those guys are going to be expected to play, to log serious minutes,” said Golden, who goes into his sixth year as the team’s coach with a 36-44-6 (.419) record.
Angel Colon, a sophomore defender who played in a few games last year, and Bryant Rivas, a senior midfielder who played sparingly last year, will have bigger roles this year. Rivas’ younger brother, freshman forward Bryron Rivas, is also on the team as is junior midfielder Eddie Rogers. Omar Machado, a junior, will play in goal. One Shelter Islander may make the team, junior midfielder Charlie Binder.
“We have some nice talent, but we’re also incorporating a lot of new players,” Golden said. “Sometimes that works out well and sometimes that doesn’t.”
Golden is envisioning a 4-4-2 formation, with Dibble and Bryron Rivas up top, and Torres and Ramirez in the midfield.
“Camilo’s a workhorse out there,” Golden said. “He’s been very nurturing with the younger players, a lot of on-the-field talk. You have to instill confidence in these younger players.”