Saying goodbye to seven seniors from last year’s squad, the Princeton Day School boys’ soccer team is undergoing a youth movement by necessity.
Longtime PDS head coach Malcolm Murphy initially had some trepidation over the callow nature of his squad which includes five sophomores and four freshmen.
“I think everybody was a little concerned because we do have a lot of younger players now,” said Murphy, who guided his veteran club to a 9-7-2 record last fall and a spot in the state Prep B championship game.
“They are not huge or athletic-looking, they are wiry. The teams we are playing against in our conference have a lot of good players and they are going to be coming at us with a lot of juniors and seniors.”
But after a few weeks of preseason training, Murphy has been pleasantly surprised by the soccer acumen displayed so far his young players.
They are very skillful, very technically inclined and tactically inclined,” asserted Murphy, noting that the team showed a good possession game against Nottingham in its first scrimmage. “They know when to hold the ball, they know when to push forward.”
Sophomore midfielder Marco Pinheiro has emerged as one of PDS’s most skillful and imposing players.
“Marco is an extremely good player; he is a little different from the rest because he is tall and carries more weight,” said Murphy of Pinheiro, whose older brother, Rui, was one of the star seniors on the 2011 squad and is now playing for Tufts University.
“No one is going to try to come in and knock him down; he is a big guy. His vision in the scrimmage was tremendous. He anchored the midfield in front of the defense and did extremely well. He’s very good with the ball. He’s got good distribution skills; he can place a ball from 50, 60, or 70 yards with accuracy.”
The rest of the PDS midfield will include a pair of freshmen, Amir Melvin and Matthew Olosunde, along with senior Wily Cara.
Murphy is expecting Cara to be a catalyst in his final campaign with the Panthers.
“We play Willy wide to get him up and down the field,” said Murphy, whose team opens regular season play with a game at New Hope-Solebury (Pa.) on September 5.
“I expect him to be a leader and a true player in there working with these other guys and combining.”
PDS is looking for sophomore Oscar Vik and senior Absnel Esteban to develop into a potent combination at forward. “Oscar Vik stood out tremendously well against Nottingham,” said Murphy.
“We didn’t really need a big physical forward, we were able to play good quality balls in, and he played very well. Absnel Esteban works hard off the ball. We have to work a lot on finishing. We were impressive against Nottingham in finding the front players and getting up there but we were pretty erratic with our finishing.”
Murphy believes he has an impressive defensive unit with freshman Chris Chai and junior Zach Golden in the middle and seniors Taran Auslander and Jack Brickner on the wings.
“The two that have worked together the best were Zach Golden and Chris Chai,” said Murphy.
“Chris is young but he has done so well with his possession. They have impressed me with the way they play off each other. They have got a good understanding of how each other works so we decided to go with them down the middle and try the seniors, Taran and Jack, on the outside.”
At goalie, Murphy will be trying sophomore Christian Vik and junior Tom Hagan.
“We started with Christian Vik against Nottingham; he did extremely well,” said Murphy.
“He is a very aggressive keeper; he gets off his line. They had a couple of tall players and he was out of his box, clearing and fisting everything. He took a lot of pressure off us. They didn’t have a lot of corners but he dealt with them extremely well. Tom Hagan is the other goalie; he will get his chance. I told them that if I put you in to start and you are doing well, I am going to give you the opportunity to finish the 80 minutes.”
In Murphy’s view, his youthful squad is ready to seize opportunity collectively this fall. “Right at this moment, it can go from strength to strength, week after week,” asserted Murphy.
“I have seen such an improvement already. Psychologically, nothing seems to faze them so far when it comes to keeping the ball. The younger guys are very intelligent in the game. They understand group and team play.”