Lamine Traore knows a thing or two about goals, having scored his share of them when he played for the Dowling College men’s soccer team. He knows that goals are the lifeblood of a soccer team. A team needs them to win and to thrive.
But Traore also knows that goals don’t come easily. The creativity that produces goals is often the final piece of the puzzle for a developing team.
Traore, 29, came to America to accept a full soccer scholarship from Dowling in 2006, the same year Dowling won the Division II national championship. Traore finished his four-year career at Dowling with 39 goals and 11 assists in 61 games played, and is ranked third on the school’s all-time goal-scoring list. He was the top Division II goal scorer in the country with 26 in 2008, the same year he led the Golden Lions to the national final and was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America third team.
And now, Traore brings his soccer knowledge and hunger for goals to the Riverhead Blue Waves (5-7 last season) as the team’s new coach. He succeeds A. J. Kretschmer, who went 10-16 in his two years in charge.
Riverhead has never reached the playoffs, and Traore is under no delusion. He appreciates the magnitude of the work cut out for him.
“It’s not an easy job,” he said after a hard practice last week. “If I said it was an easy job, I’d be lying. It’s not, but you know, soccer has always been in my life.”
It was soccer that enticed Traore to make the courageous decision to leave his west African homeland, Mali, as well as his family and, with a little knowledge of English, pursue a future in the United States, where he didn’t know anyone.
What Traore did know, though, was soccer.
“Since I was little, my coach used to tell me that soccer is universal,” he said. “Wherever you go, if you speak the soccer language, you’ll get along.”
Now Traore has undertaken his first coaching job. A former Dowling teammate of his who was also an all-American, Moussa Keita, is Riverhead’s new junior varsity coach.
Traore is trying to instill the understanding in his players that simplicity is soccer’s Holy Grail. The simpler a player plays, the better. “The best player is the one who plays the most simplest way,” he said.
The Blue Waves have two accomplished all-league players they can rely on in senior center midfielder Jordan Fulcoly and junior defender Diego Guazhambo. They head a cast of 10 returning players that also includes goalkeepers Joe Inzalaco and Selvin Morales, defenders Kevin Antunes, Abner Ortiz and Josue Cruz, midfielder Andrew Ruggiero and forwards Devrim Kucuk and Nabio Rangel.
Also joining the team are: defenders Jorge Solorzano, Sergio Gonzalez, Mike Serafico, Erick Pulla and Kevin Guazhambo, midfielders Anthony Flores, Gilberto Rosas and Carlos Guzman, and forwards Pablo Guazhambo, Michael Atkins, Shakeel Khan, Joseph Seymore, Demar Mason, Gabriel Guazhambo and Christian Garcia.
“If we get together and play as a team, we will go somewhere, we will go far,” said Traore.
As a player or coach, seeing a goal scored remains a joy for Traore.
“Scoring makes me really happy, even if I’m on the sideline,” he said. “I see a kid scoring, it just makes me happy. I just love to see the ball in the net.”
And one more thing about goals. According to Traore, there is no such thing as an ugly goal.
“No,” he said, “all goals are beautiful. As long as it crosses the line, it’s a goal, and I don’t mind. Just put it in.”
When it comes to soccer, age is measured differently, as in dog years. Class (senior, junior, sophomore, etc.) really takes a back seat to “soccer years.” A young player can be more experienced than an older one, depending on his “soccer years.”
And so, don’t be misled by looking at the young ages of the Bishop McGann-Mercy players. The Monarchs (2-14) play beyond their years. Louis Manoussos calls it the most talented group he has had in his three years as the team’s coach.
“When opposing coaches see the age on the roster, they’re going to say: ‘Oh my God. Am I playing a JV team here?’ ” he said. “But they’re going to see the talent.”
The Monarchs will depend on their three captains — Roger Young, a senior goalkeeper, Damian Duda, a junior striker/attacking midfielder, and Patrick Derenze, a junior striker.
Manoussos holds Young in high regard. “Our team will go as far as Roger takes the team,” the coach said. “In my opinion, he’s one of the better keepers in the county.”
Bereket Watts, a freshman in his third varsity year, is an all-conference center midfielder. Brian Willett, a junior right back, and Michael Shelton, a freshman stopper/sweeper, were both starters last year who should help fortify the defense.
Connor Galvin, the team’s only other senior besides Young, is the starting left back.
Among the new additions are a pair of eighth-graders, right midfielder Alex Fabrizio and central defender Joe Leonardi. The rest of the underclassmen are forward Louis Arresta, defender Dominic Gallo, midfielder Riley Joinnides, midfielder Massamino Luigini, right midfielder Wesley McBerne and left midfielder Collin Cuccia.
“There’s something about these kids,” said Manoussos, who is entering his 28th season as a head coach. “We put them through hell, literally hell [in preseason training]. They all came back with a smile on their face. They’re striving toward that respect factor. They want to get respect on the field.”
After losing a huge chunk of seniors from last year’s team, the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats will turn to a new group of young players, many of whom have grown up playing soccer together.
“There’s a lot of kids who played club ball, grew up all playing since they were 5 years old together,” Shoreham Coach Andrew Moschetti said. “They know where they are on the field without having to even look.”
The Wildcats reached the playoffs in Class A last year as the No. 7 seed and lost to Elwood/John Glenn. They opened the season with a pair of non-league games, winning by 5-1 Saturday against Eastport-South Manor and falling, 5-2, at Kings Park on Monday.
Leading the team this year are senior captains Toni Domingues and Nick Araujo. Domingues plays in the midfield and Araujo is a defender.
Both players already have a goal on the season.
Charles DeMaio scored a pair of goals in the Wildcats’ win against Eastport. Greg Canellys scored a goal in both games so far as well.
Senior Joe Cahill, a newcomer to the varsity level, has started in goal for the Wildcats. Short on goalies going into the summer, the Wildcats got Cahill, a hockey goalie, to come out for the team. Moschetti said Cahill continually improved during the summer from one game to the next.
While the Wildcats have consistently made the playoffs, they’ve struggled getting past the first round. Moschetti said that’s the goal coming into this season, to advance beyond the first round. The team will face plenty of strong competition in League VI playing against Glenn, East Hampton and Westhampton Beach.
“Our senior captains have shown great leadership throughout the preseason and we are excited for league play to start,” Moschetti said.
Shoreham opens on the road Monday where its season ended last year — at John Glenn.
Joe Werkmeister contributed to this article.