WATERTOWN - The Watertown High School boys’ soccer team couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season.
The defending NVL champions Indians traveled to Kennedy High School on a gloomy September 12 afternoon to take on the Eagles, putting their 16-game league winning streak on the line.
Make it 17 straight as the locals got off to a quick start and did not let up in a 6-0 triumph.
“Overall I’m happy with the way this team is progressing;” said Indians’ head coach Vitto Caligiuri. “We are getting better every day and that’s all you can ask.”
The Indians tested Kennedy keeper Nathan Meglio early in the game with number of shots; the pressure bore fruit when, in the seventh minute Liam Farrell found himself open in the midfield and quickly spotted Austin Dickson on the right wing and played a perfectly weighted ball ahead of Dickson who ran on and slotted the ball in the opposite corner for a 1-0 WHS lead.
Watertown’s offense would then rack up another eight shots on goal, missing some quality opportunities on net. With a minute left in the first half and still leading by only one, the Indians landed a gut shot with 30 seconds left on the clock Liam Farrell took down a deflected ball off a Kennedy defender and gave the Indians a little breathing room with a 2-0 advantage at halftime.
After the break, the struggles when it came to finishing continued for the Indians; 10 minutes into the second half, the champs had amassed 14 an overwhelming 14 shots on net with only two goals to show for it.
Finally, the shots starting finding the back of the Eagle goal.
In the 21st minute Keith Caouette received a ball from Zack Fenn on a throw in and hammered a shot home to make it 3-0.
Caouette’s goal ignited the Indians offense; just under two minutes later Troy Tedesco received a pass from Moni Jusufi and weaved through three defenders before beating Meglio to make it 4-0.
Shortly after that, Jusufi was in the right spot at the right time as Meglio (22 saves) coughed up a rebound off a wicked shot which Jusufi pounced on it to make it 5-0 for the visitors.
Dillon Vejseli capped off the scoring for the Indians on a pass from Jack Gorski; from there on, it was a matter of finishing the combined shutout of goalkeepers Vincent Orsini (1 save) and Lucas Fenn (2 saves).
Coach Cal’s Corners: “I thought we played well, the team really moved the ball around well and from that we were able to create some quality shots on net...Early on we struggled to really grab a hold of the game with some bad misses but managed to keep the pressure on and eventually broke it open...I’m not shocked with the early struggles we have literally only been together for two weeks and the timing and comfort of being on the same page with guys takes time and minutes...The important thing is defensively we closed down holes quickly and limited what they were able to do in the final third of the field, between Vincent and Lucas they only had to make the three saves...Kennedy is always a tough place to play due to the field dimensions (it’s small and makes things crowded in the middle of the field), thought we could have moved the ball a little quicker with some one touch passing to alleviate some of that pressure.”
THE 2019 INDIANS
Coming off a great year in which they won 19 games, an NVL Championship, a trip to the CIAC State Tournament Semifinals, and return seven starters there is reason to be excited about the 2019 Indians, a team which has a lot of fire power on offense and an experienced defense.
However, there are still some questions that need to be answered before the coaches, fans and the players themselves know the true identity of this team.
The loss of four key players from the 2018 team in Jake Champagne (22 Goals), goalie Hayden Beauty, Anthony Longo (5 Goals, 6 Assists), and center-back Johnathan Polletta will need to be addressed.
“Jake was a clutch goal scorer, Longo was the heart of the team in the midfield, Polletta was a key in a stingy backline that did not concede many goals, and Beauty was rock in between the posts,” Caligirui noted.
“This year’s team may look different due to the changes but I believe we have some talented players to step to fill the void left by the departed seniors.”
There is a very convincing case to be made for Cailgiuri’s (100-30-12 record in seven seasons) assessment.
Jusufi (5 goals, 6 assists) and Caouette (14 goals, 1 assist) should pick up the slack offensively both have the potential to have big years.
“Moni is a great player who has all the tools he can attack the wings in one-on-one situations and is strong enough to hold up the ball up top; Keith only a sophomore last year still has not reached his full potential as there are not many players in our league who can match his physical traits,” said Caligiuri.
“His speed, height, and strength really allow him to stand out.”
Joining Jusufi and Caouette in the attack are Farrell and Tedesco. Farrell a sophomore who started every game for the Indians in 2018 at right back is a versatile player who can play any position on the field.
“Liam is a player who we can use in a lot of different ways on the field and at such a young age has really shown how dynamic he can be on the field; I really see Liam turning a lot of heads this year with his ability to get into dangerous positions on the field,” Caligiuri said.
“Tedesco had a big year for the Indians last year with his energy on the field and his knack for scoring timely goals, and Troy’s impact on the field should be noticeable for anyone who watches us play, really allowing them to get after teams in the midfield by pressing play,” said Caligiuri.
Another key player for the Indians this year will be Junior Ben Piri, who led the team in assists last year with 14. Piri brings experience to the midfield and a great understanding of the game.
“Ben was a key player for us last year he sees things other players in our league don’t see and is able to get the ball to players in dangerous positions,” said the coach. “Ben really has the ability to shine this year and really stand out.”
In the midfield, the Indians have experience with seniors Dickson and John Mancini, both players will give the Indians depth and firepower.
“Two guys I am really looking to this year to really step in and provide leadership and quality minutes are John and Austin; both players have really grown over the past four years and each provide different but needed skills,” Caligiuri pointed out.
One of the strong points of the Indians run to the NVL Championship and the semifinals of the State Tournament last year was its defense; this year the Indians bring back a lot of talent in three-year starter Fenn, Wes Kulikauskas, Stephen Law, Kam Pruitt and Mike Braun.
Fenn and Kulikauskas will man the center back positions while Braun, Pruitt, and Law hold down the wings and possess the ability to get into the attack and pose problems for teams.
“One thing I really look for in our defenders is the ability to attack, we have a long line of defenders being viable options in the final third and scoring goals,” Caligiuri said. “I have always asked a lot of our defenders they need to be able to really help in possession and be options for us in the attack and this year for the first time in a long time we have a group of guys back there who can do that at a high level.”
One of the most interesting story lines for the Indians this year may be the battle between Orsini and Fenn to see who gets the nod in net.
Both players have great assets that Caligiuri is quick to point out.
“Lucas is young and still needs to gain the experience in game action but at six feet already he is big, intimidating and can cover ground he can make the net look really small for the opposition. Vincent has great feet an option for us to play back to and is extremely quick on his feet,” said Caligiuri.
The road the Indians face, as Caligiuri points out, will be long and tough one.
Early on, the Indians face SWC member Weston on Saturday, September 21 at the Mills Complex; that match alone may give everyone a great idea where this team stands early in the season.
“I am excited to see how things unfold this year, we have the early tests in Weston and Pomperaug but we have some difficult games in the NVL against Holy Cross, Woodland, Torrington, and Naugatuck,” Caligiuri pointed out while poring over the schedule.
“For us to make a similar run as last year a lot of things have to go our way, we need the team to stay healthy and honestly you always need some luck. I’m also interested to see who steps ups for us we have a bunch of guys like Evan Arnold, Jordan Arnold, Jack Gorski, Ty Phelan, Finn Street and Justin Calabrese who have looked great for us in camp,” said Caligiuri, who wasn’t finished looking at the list of talent at the beck and call of him, assistant Kerry Thomas and junior varsity coach Ted Delia.
“We have some really talented freshman in Zack Polletta, Kyle Zaccagnini, Jack Geise, Eri Spaho, Nate Lamadeline, and Percy Dozier who we need to work in and get experience seeing that they will be our future and perhaps the present.
“Overall I am just really excited about the season but, even with one game under our belts, this is still a work in progress and we have a long way to go,” said Caligiuri.