BRISTOL - If there was ever a year that losing preseason and practice time could be especially bad for a team, 2020 would be that year for the Bristol Eastern boys soccer team.
With many experienced players coming back from their undefeated 2019 campaign, the Lancers were set up to have another strong season and continue the program’s winning pedigree in head coach Bill Sweet’s 51st season. Few of the returning players, however, were featured much on last year’s roster, anchored by all-American Jake Woznicki, and are now being asked to step up after not having much time to learn their new roles.
“We just had to adapt to work without those extra players we had last year,” junior Dylan Piazza said. “They were great players, they were All-State, one all-American, we’re missing a big part of our team, but we’re going to get it back this year.”
Woznicki’s school-record 39 goals last season accounted for nearly 70 percent of the Lancers’ offensive production in 2019. His threat as a scorer also forced opponents to heavily focus on him defensively, which created space and scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Eastern’s offense produced just two goals through its first two games this year and posted an 0-1-1 record entering its match against Southington on Friday. With the game knotted at 1-1 and less than five minutes to go, the Lancers first win of the season looked like it was going to elude them once again. That was until Piazza rifled a right-footed shot from the left side of the goal that found the back of the net to give Eastern the 2-1.
“As far as passing and movement, we’re not connected the way we should be,” Sweet said. “Last year we had an All-American scoring goals for us and we relied on him a lot so a lot of these guys were support players. Now we’re asking them in a matter of a couple of weeks, this is our third week of 11-on-11, to fill in the gaps. A lot of these guys played last year, but they didn’t have to do the job, now they have to do the job. We haven’t talked much about that, but they just have to do it.”
The Lancers’ four goals this season have been scored by four different players and they should expect the team's production to remain spread out as the season progresses. Piazza and senior Martin Wuesthoff were the goal scorers in the win over Southington, but the next match could provide scoring opportunities for completely different people. This year’s offense is more developing a style of play and learning to play together more than playing through the best players.
“We have a skilled goalie, we’ve got a back line [with experience], we have midfielders that played a lot, now the forwards have to step up,” Sweet said. “That’s a big thing for Dylan [Piazza] and Martin [Wuesthoff], both of them are stepping in. Last year they were support, Dylan led us in assists, now he has to score and scored a sharp goal and Martin did what he’s supposed to.”
As the forwards find their place in the offense with more experience, Sweet wants to see his midfielders continue to put pressure on opposing defense and create scoring opportunities for themselves and the forwards. Piazza’s game-winning goal was started with midfielders Adam and Tyler Borry pushing the ball up the field before finding Piazza in space on the left wing.
“They knew we had a horse up front and they did what they had to there,” Sweet said. “Now, the two Borry brothers stepped up at the end. Last year they were support. Adam was back a little bit, Tyler was back a little bit, now we’re pushing them up a little more so they take more of the action.”
Sweet knows his team is talented enough to be successful this season and knows how much they improve with each day. He hopes the progression might move even faster now that his players have the feeling of their first win.
“Every game is important because it gets us in a little bit better game condition,” Sweet said. “What we’re going to try to do is remember what they did well. When we put the ball wide we did very well, in fact our [second] goal came from the outside. Distribute the ball and don’t leave it in the middle, every time we lost it in the middle.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com