Shoreham Wading-River boys soccer head coach Russ Mitchinson certainly has his work cut out for him early on this season.
The Wildcats graduated 11 players. Only four seniors return to the Suffolk County League VI team.
“We’re a very young team,” Mitchinson said. “We’re giving up a lot size-wise, but we’re definitely a very skillful team.”
Mitchinson also has been encouraged by the team’s soccer IQ, attitude and attentiveness.
“We have a lot of soccer smarts,” he said. “We have a lot of guys who are willing to learn.”
A major key to Shoreham’s success will be senior goalkeeper Wesley Pase, an All-Conference selection last year. “He has played a major role between the pipes,” Mitchinson said. “He kept us in games that we didn’t deserve to be in.”
In front of Pase will be another senior, defender Joe Daleo. “We’re looking for him to take a leadership role in our backline,” Mitchinson said.
Two juniors are expected to provide some offense — forward-midfielder Jake DePaoli and forward James Rose, who was sidelined with a back injury last year. “We’re excited to have him back,” Mitchinson said.
Several positions are expected to be filled by freshmen and sophomores.
Mitchinson has implemented a new system this season — he did not go into detail — but he has trained the team with two or three formations “to see which ones work best with the guys we have.”
“For the younger guys, it will be up to them to get up to step to the varsity level of play,” he said.
When preseason opened, Riverhead coach Evan Philcox certainly had quantity as 83 players tried out for the varsity and junior varsity squads.
Now, he hopes that can be translated into quality.
“Just having more guys to pick from is a help,” said Philcox, who cut the varsity roster to 27 players.
Philcox enters his second season as head coach hopeful the Blue Waves can improve upon a 3-12 overall mark and 3-12 League II record. He said there’s a greater influx of enthusiasm than last year.
Having a full year has helped. During the winter, the team played one day a week and even held what Philcox termed “an intense 4 v 4 tournament” in which 60 boys participated.
Five players could hold the key to the Blue Waves’ success.
Junior midfielder-forward Ian Lull, last year’s team-leading scorer (seven goals) is expected to pace the attack. Seniors Chris Cortave, a returning All-Conference selection, and Will Yanes will pair at central midfield.
Juniors Erick Valladares, a center back whom Philcox called “a phenomenal athlete,” and Dan Arias, a left back, will anchor a three-man backline.
“Last year it was parking the bus in the back,” Philcox said of using many defenders. “This year if we give up a goal, I don’t think it will be a backbreaker.”
No decision has been made on the starting goalkeeper as seniors Manolo Espana and Elder Sosa and junior Owen Cassidy are battling it out.
One thing is certain. Philcox will continue a system of continuous substitutions, which he implemented last season.
“We’re going to play hard,” he said. “Last year I said we were going to use more subs and get everyone involved.
“If we can use fresh legs every five, six or seven minutes, then they’ll feel good about it. If we’re losing, there won’t be as much on all the guys’ shoulders.”
Since Riverhead is the most eastern team in the league, virtually every team opponent must travel a considerable amount of time to play at the Pulaski Sports Complex.
Philcox said his team is accustomed to long trips; other teams might not be.
“Hopefully, we can make a home-field advantage with that this year and in coming years,” he said.
So far, Philcox has liked the attitude, even of the players he cut from the squad. He offered two students manager spots and two other boys asked to be a part of the team in some way.
He said, “Whatever we are doing, it’s working.”
Photo caption: Shoreham Wading-River has an All-Conference goalkeeper in Wesley Pase. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)