Five days prior to the first bell of the school year, there already were some tough lessons learned by the Riverhead High School boys soccer team on Friday morning.
During the Blue Waves’ season-opening 7-0 defeat to Northport, those lessons included clearing the ball away from the front of the net, being better organized on defense and playing more possession ball.
It was a difficult start to the season and the Suffolk County League II campaign for Riverhead, looking to improve on a 3-12 season, at the Pulaski Sports Complex.
“Definitely difficult, kind of crushing,” said junior midfielder Ian Lull, the Blue Waves’ best offensive threat.
Yet, in many respects, coach Evan Philcox felt his team needed a result like that against the defending league champions.
“I think in the big picture we needed this to happen to us,” the second-year coach said. “We scrimmaged Mattituck yesterday and we looked pretty good. So, I think we came in with our chests out a little bit. A little bit of humble pie is good in the long run. The scoreboard was ugly, but ultimately, it’s only one in the loss column. We have 15 more league games to go.”
It should be noted the Tigers were ranked eighth among Suffolk Class AA schools in a preseason coaches’ poll and were picked to finish third in the league. Riverhead, which starts school on Wednesday, was chosen to finish last.
Senior midfielder Steve Siso, who scored twice, masterminded the attack with his passing and ability to get his free kicks on target.
The Blue Waves’ biggest problem was their inability to clear the ball after five rebounds, four of which came from saves by junior goalkeeper Owen Cassidy, the other off the crossbar.
Siso headed the ball home for a 1-0 lead for the visitors with 33 minutes and 38 seconds remaining in the opening half.
Then came five consecutive rebound goals. Siso scored with 19:38 left in the half. Michael Kucza, standing at the right post, slotted home a rebound of a Siso free kick with 14:08 to go for a 3-0 lead. Cassidy produced a fine diving save to deny Jack Kilmeade, but Kyle Kelly slipped in the rebound with 8:14 remaining. Andrew Carrano fired a free kick from distance that slammed off the crossbar before Kilmeade put it in with 6:23 left for a 5-0 halftime advantage.
Siso’s shot from the right flank produced another Cassidy save, but Mark Amella pounced on the rebound 1:25 into the second half before Ryan Reynolds closed out the scoring with a quickly taken free kick while Cassidy was lining up his defensive wall with 32:07 left in the match.
Cassidy said he shouldn’t have left so many rebounds, although he could have used some help.
“Getting my hands around the ball, should have done more of that,” he said. “Just having the defense mark guys coming in off the rebounds because you can’t catch everything. Once we got the defense a little bit more solid, we just started playing together.”
Northport coach Don Strasser saw it differently. “I give credit to our guys being in the right spot at the right time,” he said. “We kind of spend a lot of time making sure they never give up on a ball, never give up on a shot.”
There will be plenty of tomorrows for the Blue Waves to get better organized and get their act together. Their next game is against Lindenhurst on Tuesday.
Philcox was encouraged with his team’s spirit, despite the huge deficit.
“We stuck together,” he said. “Nobody took a yellow for their mouth. There was no dissent. There was no infighting. We didn’t get chippy, and start playing bush league on the field. The kids stayed together and tried to do what we were asking them to do. We started playing on our back foot a little bit more than we wanted to. We want to move forward this year. I have to say that same situation a year ago, it would have been dramatically different the way the group responded to it. It would have a been a lot more fighting with each other and tearing each other down and giving up on the field. We took the last shot of the game with 30 seconds to go. They were still trying. That’s a good sign.”
In that regard, Cassidy liked what he saw. He said, “If we just keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’re going to get somewhere.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Cesar Garcia controls the ball despite pressure from Northport’s Kyle Gallagher. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)