By John Goralski
Two points. That was all how close the Blue Knight soccer team came to the postseason in 2013. If they could have pulled out one more win or manufactured a couple of ties, Southington could have made a run in postseason play.
It wasn’t that the locals weren’t competitive. Only five contests were decided by more than two goals. There were no blow-outs, and four regular season contests were decided in overtime.
That’s why Blue Knight coach Dave Yanosy is smiling at the start of 2014 because it looks like his team is on the brink of something special. A wave of 25 freshmen washed onto the field for the first day of tryouts. Veteran players returned with the swagger that only comes from off-season workouts. The skill level is up. The conditioning is top notch.
This could be the season that Southington fans have been waiting for.
“I’m always excited at the start of the season, but I think this is a good group of technical and tactical players,” said Yanosy. “I think we are better technically than we have been in years past. That can produce a little bit nicer brand of soccer, and it should help us generate opportunities. Scoring goals is the name of the game, and this should be a fun team to watch from a soccer purist perspective.”
This will be the season that Southington finally sheds their opportunistic, scrambling offense for a more deliberate attack. Defense and goaltending will continue to be strong, but it will be their ability to kick-start the offense that will determine the team’s ultimate success. Midfielders will weave through defenses with their heads up, and time of possession could finally tip in Southington’s favor.
“Last year, we were forced to be more direct. We relied heavily on playing that long-ball, but with some of the players that we have returning it should be a little bit more of a possession-based style,” said the coach. “We have two goals. Number one is to play a more possession based style of soccer, and number two is to get back into the tournament.”
It won’t be easy. The Knights play in one of the toughest conferences in the state, and out-of-conference match-ups are just as strong. Only one of Southington’s opponents missed last year’s postseason. Two games will be against a defending state champion. Two more will be against a state quarterfinalist. Seven contests will be against teams that advanced in last year’s postseason.
Still, Yanosy believes that Southington will be up for the challenge.
“It’s been said for years that we run the gauntlet with our schedule, but if we can put forth a consistent effort night in and night out, we will have enough opportunities to be successful,” he said. “We were in almost every game last year, and we had some really good results. We beat Hall, and we haven’t been able to do that in a number of years. We had a tie at Simsbury. Even though it didn’t work out as well as we would have liked at the end of the season, we certainly battled hard. That will set the tone for this year.”
Co-captains Ian Powell and Tom DelBuono will be a key to Southington’s early success as they anchor a group of 11 veteran seniors and a good group of juniors. Consistency will be the biggest factor in Southington’s success. The Knights will have to show up with their A-game at every contest.
“Last year, it came down to one week where we lost to New Britain in double overtime and then lost a heartbreaker against Windsor on Friday,” said Yanosy. “For us, it’s about getting points out of every opportunity. We have to battle good teams, and in our scrimmages we’ve been able to get some points. That’s what we have to do during the regular season. We can’t give games away. We can’t have days where we don’t show up. We have to be consistent and play consistently at a high level.”
That’s why Yanosy is excited about this fall. For the first time in a number of years, Southington has the skills and depth to compete against the top teams in the conference and the state. More importantly, they have the ability to score, and it starts at midfield.
Midfielders Ryan Burrill and Ryan Burrill will dictate the pace. DelBuono will lead the attack, along with Erik Schneider, Francesco Ricigliano, and Curtis Topper. When they get close to the net, every one of them has the ability to score or thread a perfect pass. The Knights will attempt to move the ball around in front of the net and capitalize on every opportunity.
“We have a lot of players that are technically and tactically sound. In turn, that allows us to play a more possession style of soccer,” said Yanosy. “That’s our biggest strength right now. These guys eat and breathe soccer.”
Defensively, Southington will turn to Powell to anchor a strong group of veterans. Last year, the defense kept the Knights in contests against even the most powerful offenses, and Yanosy expects this group to be just as hard to penetrate. Nick Valerio, Casey Doyle, Tim Carrier, and Jake Moise are all interchangeable in the backfield and that will allow coaches to shuffle players in and out of the lineup to keep legs fresh. Veteran goaltender Brian Topper was sidelined by injury at the end of last season, but he returns in prime condition to provide the final line of defense.
“They are a really solid group of good, technical players on defense, and we’re working hard to gel as a unit,” said Yanosy. “We have five solid players that we can mix in, so it should not be a problem to come up with four players on any given night. They can all give us good, quality, hard-nosed minutes. They can all help us on attack as well.”
Will it be enough to get Southington over the hump and back in postseason play? In the past, the Knights have always proven to be a formidable postseason underdog. With their regular season schedule, they are always better than their record. With their talent this fall, expectations are high.
Southington soccer is ready to take the next step.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By John Goralski