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Girls Soccer: Samba’s a long way off for Riverhead

The Riverhead High School girls soccer team isn’t playing the stylish samba soccer made famous by Brazilian teams, nor are they playing the “Samba” soccer their first-year head coach, Samba Traore, would like to see from them one day.

“I want to play samba soccer,” Traore said. “We have a long, long way to go.”

Perhaps one day the Blue Waves will bring soccer’s version of the samba onto the field, but it surely wasn’t Thursday.

Riverhead was penned in its half of the field much of the time and its defense was under almost continuous pressure by visiting Newfield. By the time all was said and done, Newfield walked away from the Pulaski Sports Complex a 3-0 winner, with junior Rebecca Regensburger scoring the first goal and assisting on the second.

But the damage could have been worse, much worse. Riverhead goalkeeper Crysten Apicello was credited with — gulp — 26 saves! Half of those saves came on either side of halftime.

Has Apicello ever made that many saves before?

“Not in one game,” said the junior.

If there were any players more tired than Apicello when the final horn sounded, it might have been the defenders who played in front of her.

“I’m exhausted,” said central defender Megan McIntosh, who played all 80 minutes and was joined on the back line by Emily Ortiz Herrera, Anna Pekar, Marina Ronzoni and Sophie Ruschin.

So, what was it like facing all those shots?

“Very stressful,” answered Apicello, who said it was “literally heart-pounding the whole game.”

It was something of a surprise that Apicello, a two-year starter, was in the game at all. Six days earlier she had spent the night in a hospital emergency room after taking a hit to her jaw in Riverhead’s 4-1 loss at Comsewogue that day.

Traore said: “She came in today and said, ‘Coach, I want to play.’ I was shocked. I got to give her credit.”

Newfield (3-1-1, 3-0 Division I) deserves credit for the way it played. The game was only 6 minutes and 48 seconds old when Regensburger, after stealing the ball, fired a low, right-footed shot that beat Apicello to the low left corner.

Regensburger later nudged a ball forward for Delani Budd, who finished at 21:00.

Megan Spina knocked in the third goal with 5:31 left in the match.

“There was pressure on the defense,” said Traore.

Offense — as in the lack of one — has been a problem for Riverhead (0-3, 0-3). Through their first three games, the Blue Waves have been outscored, 14-1. Avery Hillis scored the lone Riverhead goal against Comsewogue.

Newfield goalkeepers Elizabeth Pomaro and Nicollette Saladino combined for a three-save shutout Thursday.

The result aside, the Blue Waves were encouraged that they didn’t concede more goals to Newfield and pointed to signs of progress since last year, when the team went 1-13.

“Today’s game was a big improvement from especially last year,” Apicello said. “We made passes, we defended and we were just doing overall better than we normally would.”

Traore, who was named Samba in honor of his father’s best friend (it had nothing to do with soccer), said: “Today I don’t think we played bad. We played kind of OK. We just need confidence.”

And, some goals wouldn’t hurt. Scoring them, of course, is a lot easier said than done.

Maybe one day, though, the Blue Waves will play samba soccer, the sort of soccer that produces goals in bunches.

“One day,” Traore said. “Baby steps.”

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Photo caption: Riverhead midfielder Isabella Carson (right) tries to hold off Newfield midfielder Nicole Renelle in a battle for possession of the ball. (Credit: Bob Liepa)