With no prior discussion or warning, the position change was made. Jason Cruz suddenly became a forward for the Greenport High School boys soccer team during a preseason scrimmage against Riverhead.
Since then, he has been on Cruz control, leading the Porters in goal scoring.
“Jason’s always been an outside midfielder and an outside back for me, and then this year, I didn’t tell him that I was going to put him up top once, and then came the first scrimmage,” coach Sean Charters said. “I threw him right in there and he’s been invaluable to us ever since. He’s our leading goal scorer and he’s proven himself to be a threat up top.”
Cruz, a four-year varsity player playing on the front line for the first time since he was in junior high school, recalled that scrimmage. “The first five minutes I gave an assist and that’s when I started looking [to make] chances for my teammates and looking for those balls,” he said.
No question about it, with his great speed, Cruz is a good fit at forward.
“All you need to do is put the ball in the back of the net and that’s what he does,” Charters said. “He’s the fastest guy on my team, without a doubt. He’s getting behind guys and then he’s making a good touch. He’s giving himself an opportunity to put it home.”
The pairing of Cruz with fellow senior forward William Chapeton has been a success. Greenport has what Charters believes to be the best team the Porters have had in 13 years, since his older brother, Kyle, played for the team.
So, what has changed?
“The culture within the team,” Charters said. “Everybody wants to work hard. Everybody wants to be there every day … Guys want to be there. They want to learn and they want to play and they want to excel. That’s what a program needs to be to be successful.”
And this has been a successful season for the Porters. Credit is also due to the young man guarding the goal at the other end of the field, Miguel Torres. Torres had missed the last two seasons with a torn ACL in his left knee. Last year he served as a team manager.
A sign that Torres was to play a much bigger role came this summer during a workout when Charters presented the senior goalkeeper with a gift: a multi-colored goalkeeper jersey that Charters wore when he played for the Porters before graduating in 2012.
Torres recalled: “He said, ‘Here, take it, and good luck.’ I love it.”
Charters said: “So far he’s been playing awesome this year. That’s cool, seeing him wearing that jersey but, you know, I trust him in the net, and that’s why I put him back there.”
Cruz scored Greenport’s only goal and Torres made nine saves Tuesday in a 3-1 non-league loss at Southampton’s Richard H. Smith Field. The Class B Mariners (3-7-1, 2-6 Suffolk County League VI) presented a tough test for Class C Greenport (7-5, 5-3 League VIII).
Of course, Southampton had someone on their side that Greenport didn’t have: Diego Trujillo. The junior had a hat trick.
“He was incredibly fast, incredibly strong,” said Charters.
Trujillo, assisted by Benjamin Luss, made it 1-0, sending a shot in off the left goalpost 12 minutes and 32 seconds into the match.
A little over three minutes later, he won possession and fired a shot off the right post, but it didn’t go in.
Greenport’s first shot of the game was on the mark. Cruz equalized for the Porters at 21:26. His well-taken, right-footed blast from just outside the penalty area beat goalkeeper Antonny Lezama-Medel to the right corner for his eighth goal of the season. Jaxan Swann assisted.
But with 8:11 left in the half, Trujillo struck again, nudging the ball past Torres after a pass from Parker West.
Trujillo tucked in a rebound of a Torres save 9:18 into the second half for an insurance goal.
Southampton had the better of the play, as evidenced by a 22-7 shots advantage.
Torres did well to keep Southampton from scoring more. He stuffed a breakaway by Joseph Avallone and somehow got a hand on a blistering drive by Logan Whitall.
Cruz sustained a cut on his left eyelid during the game. “I was going to fight for the ball and I just got elbowed in the face,” he said.
Call it an occupational hazard for a soccer player.
With nine seniors on the roster, Greenport is built to win now. The Porters are one league win away from clinching a playoff berth, and beyond that, who knows?
“We have to take advantage of what we have,” Cruz said. “Our team has so much potential and I know we have great skill.”
Photo caption: Greenport senior Miguel Torres, wearing the same goalkeeper jersey that coach Sean Charters wore when he played for the Porters, has been a big part of the team’s resurgence. (Credit: Bob Liepa)