August 31, 2022

As PHS Boys’ Soccer Aims to Continue Winning Ways, Strong Sophomore Group Could Make the Difference

FANCY FOOTWORK: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Nick Matese looks to make some space near goal in 2021 action. Junior Matese should help spearhead the midfield this fall for PHS. The Tigers kick off the upcoming season by playing at Trenton Central on September 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

While the Princeton High boys’ soccer team features some battle-tested seniors, as usual, its group of stellar sophomores may hold the key to success this fall.

“The rising sophomores had an undefeated freshman season for us,” said Sutcliffe, noting that several of the sophomores competed for the Princeton FC Barcelona team that won the 16U final in the US Youth Soccer (USYS) 2022 National Presidents Cup tournament in July. “They are bringing both of those experiences into this season.”

Two of those sophomores who played for the PFC club, Brian Donis and Azaria Breitman, are bringing skill to the striker spot.

“Azaria had a good tournament for the Barca,” said Sutcliffe, who guided the Tigers to a 10-2-5 record last fall and a spot in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. “Brian has good pace, he has the ability to break defenders down. He keeps the ball pretty well.”

Senior Zach Della Rocca, who starred for the PHS track team this past spring, and junior Jamie Reynolds add speed and ability to the PHS attack.

“They are all both working hard and doing their best to find their form,” said Sutcliffe, noting that the team’s leading goal scorer in 2021, senior Richard Wegmann, will not play this season due to injury.

In Sutcliffe’s view, PHS will need to be scoring by committee in the absence of Wegmann.

“We are going to have to find a way, we have some players who have some poise around the goal,” said Sutcliffe, whose team opens the season by playing at Trenton Central on September 8. “We have to find a way to create our opportunities, whether it be through when the ball is live or on set piece situations.”

A pair of juniors, Felipe Matar Grande and Nick Matese, who were the captains of the PFC Barca squad, will lead the way in the midfield for the Tigers.

“They have played together for many years and there is an understanding there,” said Sutcliffe. “They are at their best every day.”

Sophomores Brandon Urias and Archie Smith, two other PFC standouts, also play well together.

“Brandon is a really good technical player. he has the ability to break things open and can score,” added Sutcliffe. “He has a really good left foot. Archie is a hardworking, industrious midfielder who can play out of the middle and play wide.”

Flashy senior Emanuel Noyola brings plenty of skill to the midfield.

“Manny has got gifts that others don’t have, he is good,” said Sutcliffe.

A group of veterans will spearhead the defense in senior Jack Serxner, junior Matthew Kim, senior Leo George, junior Patrick Kenah, and senior Zhibo Huang.

“Jack has worked hard, he has a lot of experience so we are expecting a lot from him,” said Sutcliffe. “Matthew was on Barca and he was on our team last year. Leo has good speed and he is strong. Patrick is a great athlete. He is in his second year with us, he is left-footed and he has got a year of experience at this level. He is terrific. Zhibo has got good pace and a high work rate. He is an industrious player.”

At goalie, senior Oleg Brennan and sophomore Nicholas Holmelunde are vying for playing time.

“Oleg was one of our reserves last year and Nicholas is a full-time keeper at club level,” said Sutcliffe. “They are still working hard.”

Playing hard on defense has been a calling card for PHS over the years.

“Last year, I think we led the CVC in goals against, that is always a priority for us,” said Sutcliffe. “In the final four games of last season, we gave up only one goal.”

At this stage of the season, getting everyone on the same page is a priority for Sutcliffe.

“The keys are the chemistry of the team, having a high level of resilience and staying together throughout the challenges of the season,” said Sutcliffe. “This is the easy phase of it, early days. When you get into the CVC campaign and the two tournaments, things get tough.”

Based on how things have gone so far, Sutcliffe is seeing that positive chemistry developing.

“The preseason has been great; the quality, the work rate, the competitiveness and the teamwork within the group has been really, really good,” said Sutcliffe. “We hope to be in a good place by September 8 when we open the season.”