You can go home again. Dan O’Sullivan can attest to that.
When the Mattituck boys soccer team’s bus turned onto the large Eastport-South Manor High School campus Monday, it triggered a flood of memories for O’Sullivan. “It’s just a great place,” he said.
O’Sullivan, 28, should know. Not only did he play for Eastport-South Manor (Class of 2010) and then served as an assistant coach for the Sharks, but he lived so close to the school that he could see the soccer field from his Manorville home.
So, perhaps it was somewhat comforting — and, yes, maybe a little strange — that O’Sullivan’s debut as a varsity head coach in charge of Mattituck came against his alma mater and one of his former coaching colleagues, David Flaherty, who also made his head coaching debut.
That, however, is where the comforting ended for O’Sullivan. On the field, before a smattering of fans (two spectators per player for both teams were permitted), the Tuckers were beaten, 4-0, in the non-league, season-opening match for both sides. Three of those goals came from Brandon Flaherty, making his father’s debut a lot easier. The score was already 2-0 when Jude Couch was shown a red card for a hand ball, leaving Mattituck to play the final 29 minutes, 44 seconds a man down. Mattituck was outshot, 20-1.
“It’s the first game,” Mattituck midfielder/center back Bryan Soto said. “It’s not about what team we are now, it’s about what team we are at the end of the season.
“The intensity was there, the work rate was there. We just got to communicate and work better for the future.”
O’Sullivan called it “a stepping-stone. We just have to learn from it. Myself as a coach, the players, everybody just has to learn. We just have to learn, take everything from this experience and try to learn and only get better.”
Any anxiety O’Sullivan might have otherwise felt about kicking off the season on the right foot was only heightened when the bus taking his team to the school arrived 20 minutes late. “I kind of got sidetracked with the bus coming late,” he said. “All I was thinking of was how we’re going to get warmups in in a cramped amount of time. When the game started, it was back to business.”
And Eastport didn’t waste any time getting down to business.
Following a Mattituck turnover, Eastport’s Andrew Pettit took a throw-in down the right wing for Peter Skidmore, who drove a centering ball that Peter Theodoropoulos buried. The game was 40 seconds old.
“They scored a goal right there,” O’Sullivan said. “The wheels are in motion, trying to figure out how we’re going to overcome that. And then we settled down. We played well for about 20, 25 minutes. Just one more lapse in communication coverage and they capitalized.”
This time it was Flaherty providing the finishing touch on a ball slid across by Emir Dogan at 28:44.
Mattituck goalkeeper Steve Moeck couldn’t be faulted for any of the four goals and he did make a nice save on a high, swirling attempt by Jake Jablonski. Those goals could be attributed to defensive breakdowns or bad judgment in the case of Flaherty’s penalty kick, the result of Couch’s expulsion for handling a Theodoropoulos header off a Flaherty corner kick.
“He understands that was a mistake that you couldn’t make,” O’Sullivan said. “You live and you learn.”
Dogan picked up his second assist on Flaherty’s final goal in which Flaherty tucked the ball into an open net with 5:13 left to play.
“We have a lot more potential,” said Mattituck center back/midfielder Luke Couch, who pointed out that the Tuckers aren’t accustomed to playing on field turf. He said, “I feel like once we get the chemistry better and once we get our touches better, I think we’ll be very good.”
Mattituck opened with a 4-5-1 formation that had Danny Puluc, Jonathan Jacobs and the Couch twins in the back, and Gabe Gamboa, Berkan Ilgin, Chris Catalano and Erik McKenna in midfield, with John Lajda up top.
O’Sullivan and David Flaherty were both assistant coaches for Eastport playoff teams in 2015 and 2016.
“He’s got a good heart,” David Flaherty said of O’Sullivan. “I think his team’s going to enjoy playing for him. He’s got a good personality. He’ll get along with everybody. I don’t think you’re going to have any issues. He’s younger. He’s going to learn, which is great, and hopefully he is there for a long time.”