Sometimes in a hard-fought soccer game, a player needs to use his head to make something happen. Michael Guzzone did just that, and it was brilliant.
Pure brilliance. That describes Guzzone’s superb header, which broke the ice and helped send Shoreham-Wading River on the way to a 2-0 victory over visiting Comsewogue in a Suffolk County Class A Tournament first-round game Tuesday. It was SWR’s first playoff win in six years, according to new head coach Rob Mancuso.
“We [had] a bit of a stigma going on,” Guzzone said. “We [hadn’t] won in like six years, so it feels really good to be a part of it.”
And that doesn’t mean that SWR (10-2) hasn’t had good teams the past several years. The previous SWR team, in 2019, might have been one of the most talented teams the school ever fielded, and it didn’t manage a playoff win. Once a team gets into the playoffs, anything can happen.
Mancuso, who has been in the program for five years, having previously served as an assistant coach, said, “There was kind of a dark cloud hanging over us, you know, because there were games that we should have won, that we unfortunately didn’t, but this team really put it together and, like I said, I could not be more proud.”
If anything, it was Comsewogue (5-5-2) that had the better scoring chances for much of the first half before Guzzone, a technical player not known for his heading ability, rose to the occasion. The senior midfielder met Connor Guercia’s curling corner kick with the back of his head, directing a perfectly placed shot just inside the right goalpost and under the crossbar with 10 minutes, 1 second left in the first half. No goalkeeper in the world would have stood a chance on that one.
“Oh, it was beautiful,” Mancuso said. “That is probably the highest I’ve ever seen him jump, too.”
Mancuso said Guzzone’s goal was a game-changer. “The confidence that it gave us was immeasurable,” he said. “We finally settled down after that goal. You saw us start pressing and really keeping things under control, getting the ball on the ground, moving it around. Once we were able to do that, because they absolutely had the height advantage, that’s when you saw this team really start to shine.”
Guzzone’s fifth goal of the year — and first using his head — changed the flow of the game. The power of a goal shouldn’t be underestimated.
“I think after my goal we started settling it down and playing our game because we got a little bit more confident, we got a little bit more momentum, and that’s where we really shine, I think, one- or two-touch passes in the middle,” he said.
That led to a second goal just 2:39 later that can be attributed to Tim McQueeney’s industry on the left wing. McQueeney belted a hard-driven ball across the goalmouth, where it struck off a Comsewogue defender and crossed the goal line. Good things can happen when one drives a ball into the goalmouth.
“Yeah, I was a little surprised,” McQueeney said. “I figured someone else would get on it, but they did it for us.”
The 2-0 halftime score seemed a bit harsh from Comsewogue’s perspective. The Warriors played much better than one would expect of an 11 seed. But Comsewogue put only four of its 13 shots on goal and one of them was cleared near the goal line by Daniel Canellys. The Warriors also lost Gregg Barreiro Jr. to a red card 18:21 into the second half after he tripped up the breaking Nicholas Nowak inside the penalty area. Nowak drilled the resulting penalty kick, only to be denied by Matthew Sparhuber’s outstanding diving save.
Both goalkeepers played well, handling crosses, making smart decisions and recording three saves each. It was William Devall’s seventh shutout of the year, with the help of defenders likes Josef Ochsenfeld, Francisco Cortes, Canellys and Nowak.
Sixth-seeded SWR’s next challenge is a quarterfinal at No. 3 Harborfields (7-2-1) on Friday.
In the moments after Tuesday’s win, though, the Wildcats were basking in the glow of playoff pleasure.
“It’s cathartic after the last three years where, you know, it was just unfortunate,” Mancuso said. “You know, it feels great. I’m on top of the world. I could not be more proud of these kids.”