Chris Golden compared the ups and downs that a high school boys soccer team experiences to a roller-coaster ride. “Last year that was a great ride, a lot of fun, a lot of thrills, a lot of excitement,” the Greenport/Shelter Island coach said. “In other years, sometimes the ride is just not that thrilling.”
So, what is this season to bring the Porters?
That is the point. One never can really say for sure, but the mystery this year may be even greater than ever for Golden.
Sitting at a desk in his team’s locker room in the Greenport High School basement a little less than an hour before the team’s first preseason practice on Monday afternoon, Golden might have felt like a blind man walking into a dark room. He didn’t know what to expect beyond the significant player turnover from last year’s team.
In his six years as the team’s coach, Golden said, “This is probably the biggest degree of uncertainty just in terms of how many kids are we going to have, and in terms of who is going to play where.”
Beyond the team’s four returning players, there are so many unknowns. Camilo Torres, an all-county senior forward/midfielder, and Erick Ramirez, an all-league junior who can play any field position, were starters as were senior defender Jesus Duran and junior midfielder Ryan Weingart. The trick for Golden will be finding a way to make best use of those players while at the same time finding replacements for the seven vacated starting positions.
“We don’t know what to expect from this, but we’re hoping for the best,” said Weingart.
The turnover is substantial. Just look at some of the players the Porters have lost:
Edwin Arias. Gone.
Julio Ayala. Gone.
Sean Charters. Gone.
Jimmy Read. Gone.
Michael Reed. Gone.
“Those are key players,” Torres said. “Our goalie [Reed] we lost. It’s going to be very tough. We just have to make the best out of what we have. That’s always the case here in Greenport.”
That’s the Porters’ challenge for this year. Their challenge in 2011 was bouncing back from a 2-14 season the year before. And they did, going 7-8-2, finishing second in League VIII and hosting a home playoff game, a 4-2 loss to Southold in a Suffolk County Class C semifinal.
It was a season that Weingart, for one, cherished. “In all the years I’ve been playing, that was my favorite year by far,” he said. “We were a family. We weren’t a team, we were a family. It was great.”
But that family has been broken up, shattered even. Putting things back together may not be easy.
Sixteen players turned out for the Porters’ first practice, and Golden’s immediate concern was having enough players for his varsity team and coach Tom Taylor’s junior varsity team.
“We want to have a varsity and we want to have a JV because that allows kids to play and there is a feeder program,” Golden said. Without a junior varsity team, he said, “We’d lose a whole generation of kids.”
The Porters are relying tremendously on their returning players, and that includes Torres, a five-year varsity veteran who was 4 years old when he first started kicking a soccer ball. He had played with his cousin, Diego Acero, and his brother, Juan Torres, both of whom are former Porters players.
Camilo Torres was an integral part of Greenport/Shelter Island’s offense last year, leading the team in both goals and assists. Golden said Torres will do a lot and not come off the field.
“Where we’ve seen the greatest growth in him is in his work rate in practice and in games where he will give 100 percent from the beginning to the end,” Golden said. “That’s the sign of a very good player.”
Torres described himself as a physical player who plays with determination. “If I lose the ball, I want to get it back,” he said. “I’m not going to give up.”
Injuries have impacted Torres. Most recently, he twice sprained his left ankle while playing for a club team over a two-month period this past spring. Asked on Monday how he was feeling, he replied, “I’m not a hundred percent, but I can deal with it.”
Torres said he is up to the task of having greater responsibility placed on his shoulders. The question is, will the Porters be up to the challenge they face as a team?
“We’ll see how it goes,” Torres said. “Right now we’re going to see what we have, what type of roster, who shows up with contracts, who is responsible enough to have everything on track, who is fit. And from then on, we’ll figure it out.”