Joe Silvestro has never played for a county champion Southold High School boys soccer team. Not that he didn’t come close — several times.
Last year, Southold lost to Greenport in the Suffolk County Class C final, 1-0. And both years prior to that, the First Settlers fell to Pierson/Bridgehampton, both by 1-0 scores.
“It’s always like a heartbreaker at the end,” said Silvestro, a four-year varsity player who played in all three of those finals.
Silvestro wants to change that.
Southold has put up an impressive record of having reached 13 of the last 14 Suffolk Class C finals, including the last eight straight. The Settlers won seven of those 13 championship games, including three in a row from 2013-15 (they have won 19 county titles altogether, twice as a combined Southold/Greenport team, according to Newsday). That was all before Silvestro was on the team.
“There’s a certain pressure that’s on us to keep going with that record, and there’s like a certain pride that we feel to get there,” Silvestro said during a break in Tuesday evening’s practice.
The subject of Southold’s regular appearances in county finals was raised in an interview with coach Andrew Sadowski.
“I didn’t realize it was that many for so long,” he said. “It’s been an eight-year run, but the competition is so tough out there … Everyone’s looking to make sure we don’t win, and that’s what sport’s about.”
Sadowski, in his 26th year coaching the team, noted it isn’t easy to consistently remain among the top teams in your class from year to year. To help in that regard, he plans to change Silvestro’s role from that of a forward to a playmaking midfielder.
“He’ll play in the middle of the field,” Sadowski said. “I’m not sure where, but he will be in more of an offensive role to complement [junior] Danny Palencia. Depending on game situation and formation, he may play an outside wing, but primarily he’ll be in the midfield.
“The big concern [is] that we hope Joe continues his creativity with the ball. We’re looking for him this year to develop more [as] a setup man, control the ball more. Really, I’d like to see his assist numbers increase. He has a technical ability.”
Last year Silvestro played up top with Palencia. The two formed a good partnership.
Playing in midfield requires a different mindset than the forward line. Silvestro will be more focused on feeding the ball to teammates rather than scoring himself. He’ll be the heart of the team and have the ball at his feet a lot. How does he feel about that?
“I think it’s totally necessary and what I should be doing for the team,” he said.
The desired affect of Silvestro’s move to midfield will be more opportunities for other players to score.
“Joey has really good vision,” senior goalkeeper Cole Brigham said. “He’s really good with the ball at his feet. So, if he has the ball in the middle of the field, he is able to attract players toward him, which opens up space for everyone else. He may not get as many open shots, but it will help our wings to get open shots and score more goals.”
That’s the sort of stuff that would help Southold return to the county final. First things first, though. Southold must navigate a challenging 16-game League VII schedule against Babylon, Center Moriches, Greenport, Hampton Bays, Mattituck, Pierson, Port Jefferson and Southampton.
“Pound for pound, it may be one of the toughest, physical leagues,” Sadowski said. “There’s nothing easy anywhere, but isn’t that why we play?”
Maybe this year will bring a different ending, one that sees Southold raising a championship plaque. That’s how Silvestro would like to cap off his senior season.
He said, “A lot of kids take it the other way, and it’s like a lazy thing, like they just want to get out, but for me it’s I just really want to have a good ending to my career here.”
Photo caption: Joe Silvestro, who has played in three straight county finals — all 1-0 losses — wants to cap his senior season with a championship. (Credit: Bob Liepa)