Matanzas boys soccer, which went 18-3-2 last season, is going back to basics with a team approach.
The players on the Matanzas Pirates boys soccer team finish their stretches in synch. As they get into small groups and play some possession games, they’re not just in uniform, but each player has his shirt tucked in.
It’s just practice, but coach Rich Weber — in his first season with the team — said it’s all part of the core values he’s preaching to his program.
“We really want (the players) to carry themselves and represent the school well as players and also be disciplined in how they approach everything in life,” Weber said. “Our intention is for them to become better people as well as better athletes.”
Included in the new process for the boys soccer program, Weber said, are mandatory study halls before away games, hydration and nutrition education with monitoring and also watching players’ grades closely. Weber said all of these new requirements are part of the roadmap in building the program.
Weber was announced coach earlier this year, following Tony Benvenuto’s switch to the girls program. The varsity team finished last season with an 18-3- 2 record, though the season ended early following a disappointing loss in the district semifinals to Ponte Vedra.
This year, Weber is implementing new strategies on the field, too.
Possess the ball
He’s a supporter of possession-style soccer. He likes building up the attack to create scoring chances. That’s a stark difference from the long-ball approach many of the returning players are used to.
Last season, the team was built around three standout players. This year, it’s more of a team approach. Weber said the largest void to fill is one of the most cru- cial positions: the goalkeeper.
Alex Webber was the Pirates’ starting keeper last season, but he graduated. And up until Monday, the team was using a keeper-by-committee approach. Weber might have his answer now.
Christian Benvenuto, kicker/punter on the football team, will play a crucial part on the boys team.
Typically a midfielder, Benvenuto will take over a lot of the keeper duties. Weber said Benvenuto will be a leader on the team, along with captains Justin Watts, Javier Reyes and T.J. Von Diezelski. All four are returning varsity players, and will join senior forward/midfielder Cody Hackett, defender Eric Laverne and sophomore Josh O’Hara.
There are seven seniors on the varsity team, but no freshman. But Weber said there are 10 freshmen on the junior varsity team.
“That’s the future,” he said.
Weber said both the varsity and junior varsity teams are part of the entire program and must work together. It all plays into the background of Weber and his two assistant coaches.
Adam Allee played at Oral Roberts University and professionally in Major League Soccer for the Kansas City Wizards. Jacobi Goodfellow played at Barry University and played for many professional clubs, including the reserves team for the Los Angeles Galaxy, of MLS.
Weber said he will have fluidity between the two teams with similar training schedules.
As of Tuesday, Nov. 16, the team was 3-0-1, and has tough games ahead against teams such as Ponte Vedra, Bartram Trail, Creekside, Pedro Menendez and St. Augustine.
Weber said the difference in this year’s team is its tenacity and that it’s a group of kids with a motor that never stops.
“They have very high expectations for themselves, and it’s pleasing to see that,” Weber said.
Watts, the team’s center back in their flat-back formation, agrees with his coach, and said the current group is more of a team.
“Everyone is on the same level,” Watts said. “It will be more of an organized style of play.”
With the possession style Weber likes, Reyes, a junior, will have a lot of responsibility in the middle of the field.
“I’m a playmaker, and I like that,” he said.
Watts, Reyes and Von Diezelski have taken over the leadership role by organizing various conditioning training outside of mandatory practice. The three think that’s the way for the team to stay together and accomplish their season goal: winning a district championship.