Optimism is high for boys soccer
Last season, the Emmaus boys soccer team went deep into districts before falling to Freedom in the championship game as the Patriots captured their first district title since 1990.
Emmaus then lost in the first round of states to Abington, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of players who expected from day one to at the very least go deeper into states.
This season, the Hornets reassembled still carrying that chip on their shoulder and ready to make a deeper run into states, but there’s a lot of work to do before that happening.
The first piece of business is to make it through the East Penn Conference, where a number of good teams will be looking to pick up conference gold medals.
One of the changes that the Hornets made after the season was in the summer league, where they split the team into two different teams, both of which made it to the league quarterfinals before seeing their run end.
In years past, Emmaus broke up the summer squad basically into a varsity and JV. This past summer the team went with two more evenly matched summer units.
The move gave coach John Cari and the rest of the staff the ability to see more players on the field and see how they would react in certain situations. Because of that, Cari feels he has a solid grip on just how much talent he’s got coming into the regular season.
“I just wanted to spread it out so it would give us a look at some of our younger players who I have some really high hopes for,” Cari explained. “Just for guys to be spread out and take some ownership out there and be leaders and get guys used to playing with other people. I looked at it as a real positive.”
Much of the starting lineup is set, but the one question mark is who will win the battle to play between the posts for Emmaus. Cari has set up an all-out battle between four players, who have made it difficult to make a decision because of how well each of them have played.
Chris Buck opened last season as the team’s starter but lost time to an injury, opening the door for Aidan Connolly. Both players are back, with Connolly set for his senior season and Buck coming in for his junior season.
Two newcomers have made the roster and are still in the goalkeeper battle.
“Goalkeeper is a battle. Todd Blyler is coming up from junior varsity, he played in club soccer and played in the national championship game and won, so he’s a highly touted goalkeeper.
“Then, we brought in another, Ed Zellner; he just worked so hard that we had to keep him, so it’s a dog fight in the goal,” Cari said.
Emmaus has two returning all-conference players in forward/midfielder Jake Groh and midfielder Eric Johnson. Four-year varsity player A.J. Febbraro is also returning for his senior season with the team as are two recent college commits in Andrew Gaines (Muhlenberg) and Thomas Hanvey (West Chester). Patrick Walsh and Andrew Toto, who saw playing time as sophomores last season will be midfield defenders along with Joe Huck and Jake Perry. Jaden Amato joins the team from the JV squad.
“We’re pretty excited about our attack and we feel like we can score more goals than in years past,” said Cari. “We’re really excited at what we’re looking at right now because we have some depth and some guys who can come off of the bench and give us minutes.”
In addition to his summer league experiment, Cari is also trying something different for the regular season. He’s going to bypass selecting team captains, at least for the time being, and have players rotate in the role. He’s leaving it up to the players to step up and claim the spot for themselves through what they show on the field.
“We are looking at leadership by committee,” said Cari, who enters his 15th season as the team’s head coach. “We want everyone to be a leader out there and we’re not going to put the focus on just one player and we’re watching as guys step up to do their job and we like that approach. It’s worked great and everybody is taking leadership.”
The optimism is high for Emmaus boys soccer as they shake off the disappointment from last year’s short trip to states and focus on this year’s run.
“I’m fairly optimistic,” said Cari. “We had a really good summer and the work ethic is good, the attitude among these players has been really good, so I feel good about it. Once again, the key is to stay healthy; we’ve been to eight straight [district playoffs] and I think we’re looking at a ninth.”