SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — “We never rebuild; we just reload,” is the motto of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood boys’ soccer team, set forth by decades of consistent excellence. This year more than most, that motto will play true, as the new-look Raiders flip the page from a state finalist team in 2016, say goodbye to 14 members from that team, and seek redemption in their quest for state championship No. 8 in 2017.
Last season, in which it dominated the state of New Jersey, posted a 22-4 record and appeared in the program’s 14th ever state final, Scotch Plains-Fanwood was part of the national scene in large part to its vast amount of superior players -- John Murphy, Tommy DeVizio, Ryan Peterson and Sean Murray, just to name a few.
But the times have changed; Murphy now plays for the New York Red Bulls Academy; DeVizio committed to Rutgers and returned to PDA soccer; Peterson now plays for the University of Delaware; and Murray took his All-State talent to Monmouth University.
Rather, the Raiders will look to their chemistry and depth to continue dominating the county and beyond this fall.
“We have a very, very good amount of depth with exceptional, quality players; we don’t have a superstar,” said legendary head coach Tom Breznitsky, who's coached the team for over 40 years. “We are very well-balanced and have excellent chemistry. One of the best chemistries we’ve had as a team.”
Just because the Raiders will carry a new look this season, it doesn’t mean they won’t return any players from last year. The Raiders will have 12 returning players from the 2016 team and will especially benefit from an experienced midfield, arguably the team’s strong suit.
Rock Valian, Jonathan Schwab and Alex Ferrara will be at the forefront of the seasoned midfield. Newcomer Adam Weiner, one of the most pleasant surprises in the preseason so far, will also be a major factor on the mid. In total, the Raiders have 13 players listed as midfielders on their roster.
“Our midfield is exceptionally strong. There are eight guys who could play at any given time in the midfield, upfront,” said Breznitsky. “As a result of that, you’ll probably see more platooning than we’ve done in a couple of years.”
Platooning can potentially be a key tactic of the Raiders, especially on attack, where the Raiders will be led by seniors Brogan Quigley and Anthony Miguelino. With the immense talent of last season’s team, both Quigley and Miguelino were virtually relegated to reserve roles, but they’re patience pays off as the speedy duo will get they’re time to shine and man the forward positions. However, Jonathan Koseoglu and Stevie Feinman-Riordan, a transfer from Columbia High School, are forwards that can contribute in a huge way off the bench as potential platoons.
“If I put Quigley in and Miguelino up top, 20-to-25 minutes in, I could come with Stevie and Koseoglu. In the midfield, I could pull three guys, four guys after 20 minutes and put in three others,” Breznitsky said.
Miguelino and Quigley are two of the seniors that will be heavily be relied on as leaders of the team.
“We lost a lot of seniors last year, so I think it’s important that all of our seniors keep themselves accountable and responsible,” said Miguelino. “We have the personnel to get to the state championship again. If we work hard enough, we’ll be right where we want to be.”
One unit of the team that has been working hard is the defense. The D, which was air-tight a year ago allowing just 13 goals to the opposition, will be revamped in 2017 after graduating key cogs. While senior Jack Brady, one of the best defenders in New Jersey (and recently committed to Wagner Univ. for lacrosse), is a returner on D from last year’s team, Benny Essenfeld, Michael Ferrara, Antonio Lomonte and Michael Dieu will vie for starting spots to hold down the backline for the Raiders. Essenfeld and Ferrera are returners stepping into much larger roles, whereas Lomonte and Dieu are first-year varsity but will be immediately called upon to make an impact.
“We only really have one true defender returning, and that’s Jack Brady. I’m very high on Dieu, Lomonte and Essenfeld,” said Coach “Brez”. “The other thing that we have is a lot of kids that can play all over the place … we’ve got several kids that are versatile.”
The team’s versatility is displayed on defense. Miguelino, a true forward, and Adam Weiner, a midfielder, have both played left and right back positions in scrimmages and could very possibly see time on the defense in addition to trying to score goals.
Should opposing offenses get past the Raiders’ flexible defense, they will be met by senior goalie Aaron Schack, who served as Sean Murray’s backup the past two seasons. While that didn’t mean much playing time, Schack benefited greatly from watching one of the best goalies in the country go about business and it’s now his time to shine between the posts.
“Over the past two years at varsity, I think I’ve gotten well prepared for this position. Training sessions have prepared me well, and Sean was a good role model for me,” Schack said. “I’m definitely ready for this year in goal and looking forward to it."
Behind Schack will be Danny Coyle, a transfer from Delbarton School. Coyle did not play a varsity game for the Green Wave, which means he can play right away and does not apply to the NJSIAA 30-day transfer penalty.
When a team is as consistently good as Scotch Plains-Fanwood, it means they’ll be playing the best competition around. The Raiders will play a challenging schedule, including marquee matches with rival Westfield on Sept. 16 and Oct. 12, a state final re-match at Hunterdon Central on Oct. 19 and sectional final re-match against Bridgewater-Raritan on Sept. 23. In addition, the Raiders will compete in the Union County Conference Watchung Division — the highest division in the county.
While the Raiders lost a great deal of talent from last year, there’s no reason to believe they can’t return a county and state championship back to Scotch Plains this fall; people might just be sleeping on them this time.
“I think a lot of people — because of the absence of DeVizio and Murphy — are going to look down on us,” Breznitsky said. “That’s a mistake.”