One thing is certain for the Mattituck, Southold and Greenport boys soccer teams in Suffolk County League VII. There will be no easy games because competition has gotten tighter.
The league was realigned because some lower population schools dropped out. They either didn’t have enough players to field a varsity squad (Smithtown Christian and Ross), moved to a private school league (Stony Brook) or shut down (Bishop McGann-Mercy).
A Class B-heavy circuit includes three-time defending county champion Center Moriches, Hampton Bays, Southampton, Babylon, Port Jefferson and Mattituck, and Class C sides Southold, Greenport and Pierson/Bridgehampton.
“Our league is not going to be any picnic,” Greenport’s first-year coach, Greg Dlhopolsky, said. “Every game is going to be a tough game. There are really no easy games, where in years past you might have a game where, ‘Oh, we’ve got Smithtown Christian this week, so that should be a little easier game.’ ”
Will Hayes has that déjà vu feeling. He feels that this Mattituck team (10-6 last year) has some similarities to the one that reached the 2012 state semifinals. This Tuckers side has experience (eight returning starters), talent and size.
“We lost a lot of talented players, but we gained a lot more talented players coming up from their sophomore and junior years,” he said. “We’re pretty well stocked. We’re a very athletic team. We’re definitely on the uptick. A similar situation where we were several years ago before I was a head coach. It’s an exciting group. They’re very dynamic.”
That dynamic starts with senior midfielder Jack Burkhardt (16 goals, 15 assists), who could be feeding Berkan Ilgin, the younger brother of former All-American Kaan Ilgin, or Matt Czujko. He will be joined in the midfield by seniors Oswald Cuellar and Joe Corso. Center back Chris Nicholson is slated to be the defensive kingpin with Brian Soto as his partner.
Emmett Ryan and Steve Moeck should share the goalkeeping responsibilities.
“My goal is to get them to take that jump from a team that was good, but didn’t have that extra staying power for a team that can close out over 80 minutes, that is going to score goals against strong teams and hold leads, a team that’s going to bounce back from a goal down and to look to even the score sheet and go ahead,” Hayes said. “They have all the ingredients to be a very successful team.”
Andrew Sadowski, the dean of Suffolk coaches (286 career wins), doesn’t make predictions about Southold (8-8), but he has liked what he has seen.
“I’m very encouraged by their team camaraderie,” he said. “The team dynamic this year is very, very positive. They help each other. They’re correcting each other in areas where they see their teammate may need improvement.”
Seven seniors form the First Settlers’ core. Leading goal-scorers Joe Silvestro, a midfielder, and Danny Palencia, a forward, pace the attack. Cole Brigham, a three-year starter in goal, and Tyler Woodhull, Kenny Latham and Stephen Schill form a solid defense while Justin Uguna will patrol the midfield.
Midfielders Sean McRae and Thomas Mina, and Freddy Palencia, who will shuffle between defense and midfield, are expected to be vital contributors.
Just about the only honor that has eluded Sadowski has been a state championship. He has come close.
“We’re not near anywhere thinking about that, for sure,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to be in the county tournament the last several years and we’ve come up short. The big goal is to qualify for the playoffs. Then let’s make a push and make things happen in the C bracket.”
Dlhopolsky doesn’t expect miracles from Greenport (12-6), which reached the Southeast Region Class C final last year. The Porters lost 10 players — nine to graduation and another who had aged out.
“Last year’s team definitely was a special team,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to replicate the success that they had.”
The Porters will rely on six players who saw some playing time. That includes four seniors — midfielder Cristian Quezada, defensive midfielders Drew Wolf and Chris Kuczynski and winger Josh Santacroce. Junior defender/midfielder Kevin Azama and sophomore forward/midfielder Justin Lopez also are expected to contribute.
“There’s some experience, but in a lot of ways it will be a work in progress and a rebuilding year in trying to get some of these guys who haven’t played on varsity some minutes and get used to the pace of the game,” Dlhopolsky said.
Dlhopolsky, a math teacher, directed just about every varsity player as he was the Greenport Junior High School coach for 14 years.
“It definitely makes it easier because I see these kids in the hallway in school and they know who I am,” he said. “They know what to expect from me.”
Photo caption: Southold midfielder Joe Silvestro, playing against Sayville last year, is an important part of the First Settlers’ attack. (Credit: Bob Liepa, file)