A familiar theme emerged in recent years around the Riverhead boys soccer team. After coming together in late August for the start of practices, the players would work themselves into shape, coaches would begin instructing fundamentals, all while preparing for a rapidly approaching season.
When the games arrived, the team often wasn’t ready just yet. And by the time things began to click in the later part of the season, it was too late.
Now, the Blue Waves hope to break that trend.
For the first time in likely the past decade, the Blue Waves are fielding a team in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League, a tool many of the top teams in Suffolk County have used to prepare for the regular season.
“The players were committed to join together,” said Moussa Keita, who coaches the JV team in the fall.
On Monday afternoon, the Blue Waves defeated Eastport-South Manor, 5-2, at the Sachem Youth Soccer Field.
The Blue Waves improved to 2-1 in the large school division. Some coaches are quick to point out that winning games isn’t the sole purpose of playing in a summer league. But for a school like Riverhead, where the playoffs are rarely a destination, any wins can go a long way toward boosting the players’ confidence.
“People like to say it doesn’t matter,” Keita said. “No. Winning matters. If the kids are playing and not winning, they can’t get that confidence. It’s true losing is part of the game, but you have to be able to see beyond that. Before I lose, I make sure I do everything and anything I can to win the game.”
Keita is coaching the summer league team along with varsity coach Lamine Traore and Craig Korobow. The coaches plan to rotate attending games.
The commitment level from the Riverhead players has been evident so far. The Blue Waves had more than 25 kids sign up for the team. On Monday, 18 players were available, which is a big number for summer league, where it’s common for kids to miss a handful of games for various other commitments.
Keita said he’s familiar with most of the players on the summer team from having coached them on the JV. He estimated about 2/3 of the roster is made up of players from the JV last year.
Those players will gain some valuable experience this summer to help them try to break through on varsity next year.
One player that stood out Monday was a small, but quick forward, Darwin Villatoro. A soon-to-be sophomore, Villatoro scored the first two goals for the Blue Waves from the left wing. He nearly scored a third in the second on a shot near the left post that was Eastport’s goalkeeper saved.
Keita said Villatoro was a key player on the JV team last year.
“He’s pretty good,” Keita said. “He’s got good speed, he’s very smart. He’s very good.”
His two goals came about three minutes apart early in the game. He scored in the 4th minute, then again in the 7th when he beat a defender with a nifty move on the left side and took a quick shot to beat Eastport’s goalkeeper. The Blue Waves transitioned from defense to offense in a hurry before the goal. Eastport was deep in the Riverhead end before the Blue Waves got the ball out and Vincent Gattuso served a long ball up field toward Villatoro to help ignite the goal.
The Blue Waves led 4-0 in the game before Eastport’s Alex Olthiff-Cusumano scored the first of his two goals.
The Blue Waves have never been a team that has had multiple kids playing on club teams during the summer, so the time together in the Brookhaven league is even more valuable for the players.
Come September, they hope it adds up to some more victories.