Two years ago, Tim Hayes knew his Toll Gate boys’ soccer team could score with anyone, and the result was the program’s best season in nearly a decade.
“We knew we were going to score goals,” Hayes, the head coach for the Titans, said of the 2011 season. “We had Nathan Sandin and John Crowley. We knew we had guys who were as talented as anybody.”
With a new season set to begin this week, Hayes is starting to get that feeling once again. A soccer team’s success doesn’t begin and end with two players, but, like in 2011, Toll Gate does have a pair that gives it quite a starting point and a leg up on much of the league.
Junior forward Josh Sandin, a returning first-team all-division player and the brother of Nathan, and senior Jose Beltran, a third-team all-division performer last year, are poised to have the kind of impact that led the Titans to that memorable season not so long ago.
“This year, we kind of have that same feeling with Jose and Josh,” Hayes said. “We’ll be able to score and do productive things on offense.”
Beltran and Sandin were both on that team two years ago, with Sandin making his name as an impact freshman and Beltran cementing his spot as a talented up-and-comer.
But last season, the team took a step back. Sandin and Beltran still had strong years, but with a number of injuries depleting the group around them, they were forced to do more things and everything became more difficult. Goals – and wins – were hard to come by.
The Titans scored just 18 goals in 15 games last year, earned just a pair of victories and missed out on the playoffs.
“It was hard for me and Jose to work it, because I was in the midfield last year,” Sandin said. “I was up and down the field constantly. I was always winded. This year is going to be so much easier.”
Sandin and Beltran will be the beneficiaries of the return of senior Nathan DaCosta to the midfield after an injury kept him out last year. A slew of other injured players will be getting back on the pitch too.
Sandin and Beltran can each primarily play forward spots without interference, which should be brutally tough to contain for their opponents.
In the first game of the annual Warwick Vets Fall Soccer Tournament, which was played at Bishop Hendricken on Tuesday, Sandin knocked home a goal against Pilgrim.
“We play well together,” Beltran said. “We try to work on our first touches a lot. Back and forth, one-two’s. Nate, our midfield No. 10, he helps us out.”
All of a sudden, the Titans have the feel of a team ready to break out offensively.
“I want over 10 (goals),” Sandin said. “Or 15. I just want to be up there. And I want Jose to be up there too. I don’t mind. I’d rather have an assist than a goal.”
Hayes sees their talent firsthand at practice, and he’s seen that talent grow over the past few years. Sandin has matured since taking the high school field for the first time in 2011 as a star freshman with his brother alongside him, and Beltran has worked hard to improve on the big stage, wanting nothing more than to succeed at a sport he’s loved since he was a kid. He still has his first soccer ball – a black and white Mitre – in a box under his bed.
They’re different players on the field, but their passion is unquestioned. And they’ve both become quite adept at finding the back of the net.
“Jose can do a lot of things with the ball,” Hayes said. “He’s really quick, really sneaky. Josh is really, really strong. He can run by a lot of guys.”
With them leading the way, Toll Gate is understandably optimistic.
It knows what can happen with two elite players leading the way, pushing each other.
“I’m just here to win the game,” Sandin said on Tuesday. “If Jose scores, that’s even better. There’s no competition.”
Then Sandin smiled and re-thought his position.
“Well, I want to get more goals than him,” he said. “I’m not going to lie.”
They’ll both likely get their share.