Not only do Suffolk County high school boys soccer coaches feel Mattituck will win the League VII and county Class B titles for the fifth consecutive time, but they think the Tuckers are the best small school in the county. In their preseason poll, they ranked Mattituck No. 1 among Class A and B sides.
“After last season and coming off a couple of good seasons in a row bringing back essentially our entire team, a lot of people would know that we’re good,” coach Mat Litchhult said.
Litchhult, whose 15-3 team lost in overtime to eventual state champion Carle Place in the Long Island championship game, realized that just having an impressive résumé and talent can only get you so far. He has reminded his players that they cannot expect to show up and win.
“I try to reiterate [that] every day,” he said. “We talk about taking every opportunity to get up on a team, taking every opportunity to try to put a team away. Every game is important. Each game is not to get ahead of ourselves. It’s a steppingstone.”
The only position not necessarily having a senior will be in goal, where junior Ben Knowles will begin as the starter after receiving some playing time last year.
The back four of center backs Paul Hayes and Ozzie Aldaz and outside backs Walter Jacob and Erik Schwartz returns, with Michael O’Rourke and Matt Krauza pushing for a regular spot.
“One thing that we had this summer, we had a lot of guys step up and fill in some spots for some guys who couldn’t make it,” said Litchhult, who has a 162-48-14 mark in 12 years. “That added to our depth. We’re still trying to work out our back line.”
The midfield could very well be the team’s strength because of the quality, quantity and versatility. James Hayes, who has been utilized as a central midfielder, was deployed as a forward during the summer league. Senior John Batuello and junior Kevin Diffley are in line to be holding midfielders, with Kaan Ilgin, the 2013 county small schools player of the year, on one wing and Joe Tardif on the other. That would allow the Tuckers to use Kevin Williams up front as a striker.
“Midfield has to be our strength,” Litchhult said. “Some of these guys have been in the midfield as four-year starters. You look at that and you’re like, ‘Where’s your weak spot?’ It’s going to be hard to find it against us. A lot of the guys are interchangeable.”
Williams will be up front along with Brian Doherty and Mario Arreola, who is training with the team after missing last Monday’s opening training session due to work commitments.
All this talent and experience translates into a deep team. Some of the Tuckers’ most intense soccer could come in practice.
Southold is another choice of the coaches to do well. The First Settlers have some lofty goals that go beyond winning the League VIII crown.
“My expectations for the team is to be competitive for the top spot in the league and for the county title,” coach Andrew Sadowski said.
That sounds quite reasonable considering the school’s rich soccer history. Southold (12-5-1) has won 16 county championships.
While Sadowski hasn’t figured out a system or the exact playing positions, he felt the team was developing something special.
“I think the focus as it relates to the team chemistry that is developing, that is on the same page as their work ethic,” he said. “That stretches to the JV level as well.”
Sadowski, who has a 233-95-30 record over 20 years, will rely on five seniors as the core of the team — goalkeeper John Charles Funke, who acquitted himself well during the Town of Brookhaven Summer League season, defender Jack Dunne, midfielders Sean Moran (“He’s an incredibly hard worker,” Sadowski said. “He does a good job running the midfield”) and Shayne Johnson (“His quickness and his ability to get open impress me”) and defender/midfielder Ryan DiGregorio along with junior midfielder/forward Rafael Campos and senior defender Anthony Siracusano.
Junior defenders Alex Lincoln and Peter Fouchet and midfielder Joe Worysz also should see action.
Newcomers expected to compete for a starting role or add depth include four juniors — defender Liam Simmons and midfielders Noah Mina, Walker Sutton and Josh Kettenbeil, and sophomore defender Michael Christman.
Senior defender Zachary Ellis is recovering from hip and groin injuries, limiting him in training.
Sadowski figures if the team bonds well, winning will be a by-product.
“Our goal is to play well and to support each other,” Sadowski said. “That positive attitude and attributes will take care of the won-lost record.”
With his team representing one of the smallest of the county’s 59 schools, Greenport coach Chris Golden won’t make excuses or complain about his plight. It isn’t in his DNA; making sure his team is competitive is.
“That to me, is neither there nor there,” he said. “The biggest challenge is to make sure we can field a varsity and a junior varsity.”
Which the Porters (3-12) will do. They had 24 players come out.
“Playing time is never an issue for us,” Golden said.
Golden, who has a 45-64-8 mark in seven years in charge of the Porters, noted that Ross and Smithtown Christian, among the smaller-sized schools, won’t be fielding a junior varsity team to give younger players a chance to play regularly.
“So for us, that’s a real big accomplishment,” he said.
The Golden rule with Greenport is simple: “Every year the goal is to be competitive in our league and make the playoffs,” he said.
Four players form the team’s spine — senior center back Alex Perez, senior defender Niklas Droskoski, senior midfielder Angel Colon and junior forward Bayron Rivas.
Also expected to see action are midfielder/forward Mateo Arias, defenders Justin Bracken and Nick Wallace, senior midfielder Robert Nicholas, a Central Islip transfer, and goalkeeper Richard Torres.
“I expect all of them to contribute and be essential members of the team,” Golden said. “Productivity is expected from them and other players for us to do well.”
Last year the Porters earned the Suffolk County Soccer Officials Sportsmanship Award for the second consecutive year, an honor Golden is quite proud of.
“The kids I have are very enthusiastic,” Golden said. “They’re willing to work hard. They understand the landscape. They understand the bigger picture.”