FANCY FOOTWORK: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Nick Matese is looking to make room near goal in 2021. Junior Matese is expected to help lead the midfield this fall for PHS. The Tigers kick off the upcoming season by playing at Trenton Central on September 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
While Princeton High’s boys’ soccer team includes some tried-and-true seniors, as usual, its stellar group of sophomores could hold the key to success this fall.
“Sophomores on the rise had an undefeated freshman season for us,” Sutcliffe said, noting that several of the sophomores competed for the Princeton FC Barcelona team that won the 16U final in the 2022 US Youth Soccer (USYS) National Presidents Cup Tournament in July. “They bring both of those experiences into this season.”
Two of those sophomores who played for the PFC club, Brian Donis and Azaria Breitman, bring skills to the striker position.
“Azaria had a good tournament for Barca,” said Sutcliffe, who guided the Tigers to a 10-2-5 record last fall and a place in the Mercer County Tournament semi-finals. “Brian has good pace, he has the ability to break down defenders. He keeps the ball pretty good.”
Senior Zach Della Rocca, who played for the PHS track team last spring, and junior Jamie Reynolds add speed and ability to the PHS offense.
“They are both working hard and doing their best to get back into shape,” said Sutcliffe, noting that the team’s top scorer in 2021, senior Richard Wegmann, will not play this season due to injury. .
In Sutcliffe’s view, PHS will have to score by committee in Wegmann’s absence.
“We’re going to have to find a way, we’ve got players who have composure around goal,” said Sutcliffe, whose team opens the season playing at Trenton Central on September 8. “We have to find a way to create our chances, whether it’s when the ball is live or from set pieces.
A pair of juniors, Felipe Matar Grande and Nick Matese, who were captains of PFC Barca’s team, will lead the way in midfield for the Tigers.
“They’ve played together for many years and there’s an understanding there,” Sutcliffe said. “They are at their best every day.”
Sophomores Brandon Urias and Archie Smith, two other PFC stars, also play well together.
“Brandon is a very good technical player. he has the ability to break things down and can score,” Sutcliffe added. “He has a very good left foot. Archie is a hardworking and industrious midfielder who can play in the middle and play wide.
Flashy senior Emanuel Noyola brings plenty of talent to the midfield.
“Manny has gifts other people don’t have, he’s good,” Sutcliffe said.
A group of veterans will lead the defense with senior Jack Serxner, junior Matthew Kim, senior Leo George, junior Patrick Kenah and senior Zhibo Huang.
“Jack has worked hard, he has a lot of experience so we expect a lot from him,” Sutcliffe said. “Matthew was at Barca and he was in our team last year. Leo has good speed and he’s strong. Patrick is a great sportsman. He’s in his second year with us, he’s left-handed and he’s one year old. of experience at this level. He’s great. Zhibo has good pace and a high work rate. He’s a hard-working player.”
At goalkeeper, senior Oleg Brennan and second Nicholas Holmelunde compete for playing time.
“Oleg was one of our reserves last year and Nicholas is a full-time goalkeeper at club level,” Sutcliffe said. “They always work hard.”
Playing hard in defense has been a calling card for PHS over the years.
“Last year I think we led CVC in goals against, that’s always a priority for us,” Sutcliffe said. “In the last four games of last season, we only allowed one goal.”
At this point in the season, getting everyone on the same page is a priority for Sutcliffe.
“The keys are team chemistry, having a high level of resilience and sticking together through the challenges of the season,” Sutcliffe said. “It’s the easy phase, the first days. When you enter the CVC campaign and the two tournaments, things get tough.
Based on how things have gone so far, Sutcliffe sees that positive chemistry developing.
“The pre-season was great; the quality, work rate, competitiveness and teamwork within the group has been really, really good,” Sutcliffe said. “We hope to be in a good place by September 8 when the season opens.”