There has always been a sense of pride driving the area’s local high school boys soccer teams.
This fall should see more of the same.
Perennial postseason contenders Norwalk and Staples expect to be right back where they always are, while Wilton and Brien McMahon are working to get back to the heights they once reached.
Here’s a closer look at each.
Last season, the Bears — after a 9-5-2 regular season — rode a postseason surge all the way to the Class LL semifinals, where they lost in a 1-0 double-overtime thriller to Naugatuck.
Seven starters have graduated from the squad, but Norwalk featured plenty of young talent that has 13th-year head coach Chris Laughton feeling good about his group.
“The coaching staff is very excited about the work ethic, camaraderie and senior leadership of this group,” Laughton said. “We will continue to focus on daily goals of improving individually and collectively, which in turn will help put us in position to achieve our long-term goals.”
Eight seniors are expected to make a major splash for Norwalk this season, led by Michael Hidalgo and Matt Hernandez, both four-year varsity players.
Hidalgo was a second-team All-FCIAC performer a year ago, as well.
Gianluca Trofa has seen experience in the net for Norwalk and is a team captain.
Midfielder Will Gaviviria and defender Lance Garcia are three-year starters for the Bears, giving them experienced players at each level.
Other senior defenders include Iovanni Robledo, Cesa Rivera, Jorge Gonzalez and Chrisian Gavrielidis, all multi-year varsity players, giving Norwalk some experience in the back.
“The players are very coachable and we have great senior leadership,” Laughton said.
Norwalk to will have to find more scoring to take some of the pressure off Hidalgo.
Junior midfielders Kevin Carabali and Mateo Davalos will lead that charge along with sophomore forwards Oskar Otalvaro, Pablo Jiminez and Greg Foster.
Norwalk opens the season on Saturday, Sept. 8, at St. Joseph.
The Senators haven’t won a game since Oct. 7, 2016 — a stretch of 22 games.
Over that stretch, however, McMahon has tied 11 times, showing how close the Senators are to being a competitive team. (Two of last year’s losses were by one goal, as well.)
Five starters return from last season, and McMahon could get a boost from a group of talented sophomores who went undefeated as freshmen a year ago.
“We have a motto for this year: ‘No Excuses 2018’,” McMahon coach Rodrigo Guzman said. “Everybody knows what is expected for McMahon to have a great season. We have to eliminate the mistakes and build confidence we can compete with each and everyone in the FCIAC.”
Guzman is expecting big years out of Eli Pardo, a first-team All-FCIAC selection who had eight goals a year ago, as well as George Simpson and Bert Santiago, a senior goalie.
All three are captains.
Two other key seniors are Emmett Towey and Jose Barragan, both of whom will anchor the defense in front of Santiago.
Juniors Chris Ocampo, a midfielder, and Masai Castillero, a forward, also return, as does sophomore Leonardo Guzman.
“The goals are simple,” Guzman said. “Stay focused and play each second as perfect as possible because we’re a team that can’t afford to make mistakes.”
The Wreckers remain one of the most competitive and successful programs in both the league and the state and coach Dan Woog hopes his program’s 60th-anniversary season is something special.
But it won’t be easy. It never is, and he knows that.
“We have not advanced to the FCIAC finals, or beyond the state quarterfinals, in several years,” Woog said. “We’ll need focus, consistency and leadership to do that.”
The Wreckers were 8-4-4 on the regular season a year ago and six starters exited the program.
Staples often runs deep, though, and doesn’t rebuild as much as it reloads.
Captains Nick Ambrose and Gabe Baltierra will lead the team. Ambrose is a defender/midfielder while Baltierra is one of the key cogs on the back line.
Other returnees Woog hopes to see shine are goalie Ry Cohen and attack-minded forward Wilson Daniels, both seniors, and juniors Sam Liles (forward), Patricio Perez Elorza and Vaughan Sealey (both midfielders) and Callum Wisher, a defender.
As far as newcomers, Woog is looking at Lefty Penderakis to rise up from the JV squad while midfielder Austin Sholes and Matthew Tanzer are returning from playing developmental academy soccer.
“Versatility, balance and chemistry” will be Staples’ strong points, according to Woog, who knows a recipe for success.
Nine starters left after Wilton’s 5-7-4 season a year ago.
Only seven seniors — the Warriors’ smallest-ever senior class in Coach Jim Lewicki’s 15 years as head coach — return, so another rebuilding mode might be the storyline on Danbury Road.
“We need a cohesive program with a lot of new faces starting on the field,” Lewicki said. “We only have seven seniors, smallest senior class ever. Experience might be a problem.”
Lewicki feels his team’s strength is up front and in the midfield, which bodes well for scoring and offensive opportunities.
Striker Michael Zizzadoro and midfielder Chase Connolly are two senior captains. They are joined as captains with senior back Andrew Bucciero and junior Karl Pfieffer.
Bucciero and Pfieffer will be especially key considering Wilton is most inexperienced in the defensive third of the field.
Also in the midfield is Connor Uitterdijk, a returning junior.
Some of the young talent the Warriors expect to see stepping up this fall are junior midfielder Liam McLaughlin, sophomore midfielder Owen Lillis and sophomore defender Zach Abud.
Two freshmen — striker Andrew Zizzadoro and goalkeeper Kace Stewart — are also expected to play key roles.
While rebuilding might be the watchword, Lewicki expects his team to compete.
“After losing nine starters, I’m not saying we have to start over,” he said. “Our goals are to make FCIACs and states. I’ll take hard work and dedication.”