Thomsen Taking Helm of PDS Boys’ Soccer, Bringing a Special Bloodline in the Game
GOING FORWARD: Princeton Day School boys’ soccer player Milan Shah controls the ball in a game last season. Senior forward Shah figures to be a key offensive threat for PDS this fall. The Panthers, who fell 4-3 in overtime to Hightstown last Monday to move to 1-1, play at Pennington on September 15 before hosting Hamilton West on September 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Soccer is in Brian Thomsen’s blood.
“My grandfather actually came over from Glasgow to play semi-professional soccer back in the 1960s,” said Thomsen, 31, a native of Brick, N.J.
“He has been over here ever since. My dad and my uncle played together on the same club team growing up. My dad played at Southern Connecticut State. My uncle played at Loyola and he played professionally. My brother just retired from playing professionally down in Richmond with the Richmond Kickers. We have a soccer family.”
Thomsen, for his part, starred at Monsignor Donovan High in Toms River before playing at Northeastern University for two years and then transferring to Stockton University for his final two seasons of college soccer. Getting into coaching in 2015, he has served as the director of operations for Next Level Soccer Academy, director of programs for Washington Crossing FC Select, as an assistant men’s coach at The College of New Jersey, and the head coach of the Real Central NJ women’s program.
Now he is bringing that background and experience in the game to the Princeton Day School boys’ soccer team, taking the helm of the program after previous head coach Ollie Hilliker stepped down last fall.
“I felt it was a really good opportunity for me to build a program in a college prep-like environment that was different from a public school,” said Thomsen.
“It gave me what I was used to on the soccer side which was that these kids have good facilities, they have good academics, and they have good opportunities from school. There was a lot of support behind the program and athletics at the school.”
Thomsen is bringing a win-now approach to the program, which went 6-5-1 last fall in an abbreviated season.
“The mentality is let’s not look at this as a rebuilding year, we want to go after it,” said Thomsen, whose team is off to a 1-1 start, having defeated Morristown-Beard 3-2 on September 8 before falling 4-3 in overtime to Hightstown last Monday.
“I want to give the guys who are seniors a year to remember. I want to give the guys that are younger than them, the juniors, sophomores, and freshmen, the opportunity to see what it is like to be in the grind every single day and try to attack this head on. We all play to win.”
At forward, Thomsen is looking for a pair of seniors, Milan Shah and William Vasquez, to provide some firepower.
“Milan has been involved in the varsity program for the last couple of years and he has been a really big part of it,” said Thomsen.
“He seems hungry in preseason. Watching him in preseason with his urge to go forward, I want him to be the guy that creates the offsetting matchup. He scored both of the goals against Franklin in our scrimmage. He looks like he wants to put the ball in the back of the net so that is going to be helpful. Vasquez is a big talent. He is very technically gifted and has an eye on one-v-one attacking. What we are going to look to do this year is to figure out how we can we get him in isolated scenarios where he can take players on.”
The PDS midfield features a trio of superb players in junior Joaquin Rodriguez, freshman Todd Devin, and senior John Ramos.
“Joaquin is our center attacking midfielder; he is very talented,” said Thomsen.
“He has a good head on his shoulders and a good work rate. He has that professional mindset. He is at training every day, putting in the work. He is coachable and wants to be good for the team and himself. Behind him sitting deep in the midfield you will have Todd, who is very talented and is going to be a huge part of the next four years. John, in my opinion, is the most underrated player in the county this year. I think he is going to surprise a lot of people. He does all of the hard work for his team.”
On defense, senior Connor Topping, senior Zach Law, junior Shay Bhens, and junior Raag Desikan should be providing some good work.
“Our outside back spots are up in the air a little bit, we will have Connor, he is a good athlete, he plays basketball,” said Thomsen.
“On the other side we are playing with Zach. The two center backs will be Shay and Raag. I really pushed them this last week because the center back spot is not a spot that you are going to be subbing that much.”
In the goalie spot, junior John Mazzarisi is emerging as a standout.
“I am happy that we will have consistent goalkeeping for the next two years,” said Thomsen.
“From what I have seen and what I have heard, it sounds like he has made major improvement. I think shot-stopping is a really big strength for him. I would like to see him hold the box a little more and take some free kicks, His one-v-one save ability is very good as well. Like every young goalkeeper, he has got to start being the voice of the defense.”
In order to make some noise this fall, PDS has to show mental strength whenever it takes the pitch.
“We have got to have a competitive mentality in every game we play, no matter who we are playing against,” added Thomsen, whose team plays at Pennington on September 15 before hosting Hamilton West on September 17.
“It doesn’t matter if we are playing somebody better than us or worse than us, we need to have a competitive mentality. If you don’t have that, you are going to be in a situation where we are going to make mistakes.”
While the Panthers are bound to make some mistakes, they can’t get hung up on negative moments.
“We have to have a willingness to play together, I think that is a huge part of high school soccer,” said Thomsen.
“The more talented teams don’t always win. From what I have seen and what I have been a part of, the teams that play together, move together, fight for each other, the family type environments, are the ones that win the most. We also need to be enjoying the ride with each other. I have noticed with college and high school athletics how an environment and a team can go downhill so quick just because of one thing that happened. There are a lot of things that can steer a season away from where it should be. We are going to talk a lot about the what’s next mentality, which is how fast can we move on from mistakes.”