Chris O’Brien bleeds red, and it’s more than just because hemoglobin picks up oxygen in his lungs.
O’Brien was a three-year varsity soccer player for Southold High School (Class of 1979), playing as a forward for coaching legend Dick Osmer. From there, he became a defender at Southern Connecticut State University, reaching four NCAA final fours.
These days, O’Brien is better known as a successful Center Moriches boys soccer coach.
“Some of the old-timers probably always think of me because I played [in a] men’s league for Southold for many years, they always think of me as a Southold guy, but you know what?” O’Brien, 60, said. “I bleed red — both Center Moriches and Southold red.”
The two schools share the same red and white colors, so one can imagine what O’Brien’s closet looks like.
“By the looks of it, it looks like he loves his school, so I’m hoping he likes us more than them,” Center Moriches junior center midfielder Liam McDermott said, referring to the Southold First Settlers.
McDermott has no reason to worry about O’Brien’s current allegiance. While O’Brien understandably has a soft spot in his heart for his alma mater, it all comes down to years. “I was only in Southold for 18, so I’ve been here a hell of a lot longer,” he said, referring to his 36 years at Center Moriches, the past 25 as head coach.
Much time has passed since O’Brien’s brother, Greg, played for Southold from 1982-85 (scoring a Suffolk County career record 111 career goals for the Settlers). Chris O’Brien was a Center Moriches assistant in 1985. Since then, he has coached the Red Devils to state titles in 2009 and 2017 as well as state finals in 2006 and 2019.
Center Moriches’ home opener came against Southold on Saturday morning. McDermott scored his first varsity hat trick in a 3-1 League VII win. Brendan Kilcommons scored for Southold (0-2, 0-2).
Center Moriches (2-0, 2-0), a Suffolk Class B finalist this past spring, lost the services of one of its captains, senior center back Jack Kleinman, who complained about a problem in his chest and exited about 10 minutes into the game.
“He had trouble breathing and they took him to the emergency room,” O’Brien said after the game. Later that afternoon, O’Brien texted an update to a reporter that Kleinman has a “lung issue” and will be held overnight at Stony Brook University Hospital.
Kleinman had assisted on the game’s first goal just 5 minutes, 32 seconds in, delivering a cutting through ball for McDermott to finish. “He’s our warrior and he’s our vocal leader,” O’Brien said of Kleinman.
In Kleinman’s absence, McDermott, the only other returning starter from last season in the lineup, picked up the slack. McDermott, off a pass from Peter Luongo, ripped a hard shot that goalkeeper Gavin Fredricks couldn’t handle at 15:45.
Kilcommons made it a one-goal game again at 25:09. Fernando Cardenas drove a centering ball that ran across the goalmouth. Kilcommons turned on it and fired it in.
McDermott, though, restored Center Moriches’ two-goal lead with 20:36 left to play when, with Fredricks out of net, he curled a long shot in from the left flank.
“Honestly, I just play,” said McDermott, who has been dealing with hamstring and groin issues. “I just go out. I mean, even if I’m feeling bad, I just know that I know what I can do and I know what I want to do and I’m going to try and perform my best every day.”
Southold, the defending Suffolk Class C champion, has 14 returning players from last season. Brendan Duffy, Conor Kilcommons, Ricardo Lopez, Matthew Schill, Jack Sepenoski, Connor Wilinski, Cardenas and Fredricks were starters in the spring.
Saturday’s game pitted two of Suffolk’s most successful coaches against each other. Andrew Sadowski has a 301-141-25 record in 27 years as Southold’s coach. O’Brien isn’t too far behind him with a 288-124-25 mark.
Saturday’s game also served as an O’Brien familiy reunion, of sorts. O’Brien’s father, Tuck, who lives in Southold and will turn 90 in October, attended the game along with two of Chris O’Brien’s children, Jessica and Kevin, who both live in New York City.
Some words were apparently exchanged among players during postgame handshakes and that prompted angry words from both benches.
Regardless, O’Brien said of the Settlers, “I wish them the best because I always hope that they do well, and Andrew’s done a great job with the program.”