Last year, the Toll Gate boys’ soccer team was built around seniors John Crowley and Nate Sandin, a pair of four-year starters who were among the best players in the division. They led the Titans to a 7-6-3 regular season and the program’s first playoff appearance since 2002.
But even with those cornerstones gone, the building is still standing. Nearly everybody else in the lineup returns.
And those players are ready to take center stage.
“We did lose a couple of real key players, but we’ve got some guys that showed a lot of growth in the off-season,” said assistant coach Mike Vadney. “They should be able to fill in those spots, and then it’s seeing if we can come together as a team and seeing if we can get back to where we were last year.”
It will likely take the Titans some time to adjust to playing without their stars, but once they find their own way, there’s plenty of reason to think the Titans can be competitive again. They return all four of their defensive starters, a standout forward and, best of all, two returning second-team all-division players in Nathan DaCosta and Josh Sandin, Nate’s younger brother.
Those two will carry a big load. DaCosta started last year as a sophomore and emerged as a key part of everything the Titans did. He’ll be ready for an even bigger role this year.
“Last year, I think he was overshadowed a little bit by Nate Sandin,” Vadney said. “He’s stepping up. He’s got a little more size to him and I think he’s going to fill that role that Nate had last year.”
Josh Sandin is also ready for more. As a freshman last year, he burst onto the scene and finished the season as one of the state’s leading goal-scorers. It’ll be different this year without his brother and Crowley, his cousin, feeding him the ball, but expectations are still high.
“Last year, he was playing with his brother and his cousin so I think they all just kind of knew what each other was doing,” Vadney said. “He’s been very positive this year. He’ll step up. He’ll definitely pop some in. We’ll just see if we can get the guys around him to get the through balls to him and go from there.”
Sandin will be joined up front by junior Jose Beltran, a solid scoring threat in his own right. As long as the midfield can control the ball and create chances, Sandin and Beltran will be able to finish.
“We’re trying to put Jose and Josh in a position where they can attack the net,” Vadney said. “Hopefully, some good things will come.”
DaCosta will anchor the midfield, along with junior Corey Favino, who played a lot last year. Junior Jeremy Cullen and sophomore Mark Ramsey are ready to step in as well.
In net, the Titans will have a new starter. Senior Steve Mathews, a hockey standout, is new to the team and is competing with junior Zach Bromage for the starting job. While there isn’t much experience between them, both have the potential.
“Both are showing promise,” Vadney said. “That’s a nice thing to have.”
Whoever’s in net will have the luxury of a strong defense in front of him. Seniors Justin Allen, Nick Lodge and James Sullivan are all back in the fold, as is sophomore Andrew Rocchio.
“Our back four is pretty much what we had last year, so that’s great,” Vadney said.
The rest of the roster includes George Ferraria, Benjamin Foss, Hunter Heberg, Daniel Johnston, Kyle McGuire and Douglass Sanders. David Moreno-Garcia, a standout sophomore last year, moved out of state and won’t be back.
One negative for the Titans is that the numbers are again low. Last year, the team didn’t have many opportunities to give its players a breather, and the same will be true this year.
“Unfortunately, with the numbers we’ve got, the guys that are out there are going to be playing,” Vadney said.
But Toll Gate hopes they’ll be playing well. The Titans have increased their win total from the previous year in each of the last three seasons, and they’d like to keep that trend going.
“Hopefully we can put together a team that’s going to bring us back to where we were last year,” Vadney said.