Certain communities in the area tend to gravitate towards one sport, and Port Chester is no different. While many are passionate about football or basketball, there’s no mistaking which sport the people of Port Chester are fervent about.
“It’s soccer all over,” freshman forward Steven Hernandez said. “Everywhere you go.”
With the Rams reaching the Class A state semifinals for the first time since 1995, the town has rallied around them. The team is known for attracting large crowds, and they have been following the Rams all over the state.
“We feed off of their energy,” senior defender Bryan Suertegaray said. “Port Chester is a large Hispanic community. Since we were little, a lot of these kids I’ve been playing with since I was seven years old.”
The family ties throughout the team are evident. Hernandez is a shining example, as he has emerged as Port Chester’s go-to scorer in these playoffs by scoring seven of their nine goals. His older brother Victor once starred for the Rams, and his cousin Brian Coyt was the team’s leading scorer last season.
“It runs in the family,” Hernandez said with a smile.
Hernandez has been drawing headlines recently with his knack for clutch goals, but this team is littered with talent that has been bred from a young age. In order to get past Section 3 champion Fowler on Saturday and reach the state final, the expectation is that someone else will have to ease the scoring burden.
“Never before have I ever seen that from a freshman,” senior goalkeeper Jose Gonzalez said. “It’s just incredible, but he’s been playing soccer his whole life. He’s been stepping up big, and he’s doing what he does best.”
Here are some notes from my visit with the Rams during their practice today at Purchase College:
• Port Chester has been practicing at Purchase all week to prepare for the large turf field at Middletown HS. The Rams usually play on a grass field at home, but coach John Cafaldo felt that it was important to adjust to playing on such a wide surface. PC’s unfamiliarity with such a big field could be viewed as a disadvantage, but Hernandez seemed to think it could work in their favor. “The more space, the better,” he said.
• There was nothing groundbreaking about what the Rams were doing – at this point its not like Cafaldo is teaching them anything they haven’t already seen – but most of the drills focused on getting creative in space. They ran through breakaways, starting with one-on-one, and then adding another guy every so often. Defenders were working on closing gaps when they were outnumbered and recovering, while the midfielders and forwards worked on making the right touches and reads as they approached the goal. At the end, the team broke into a full field scrimmage.
• A few of Port Chester’s key cogs have been banged up recently, but everyone seems like they’ll be good to go for Saturday. Gonzalez, who has been nursing a laundry list of ailments, said, “A couple of days rest is helping me recover and get ready for states. We’re going all out this weekend.” Suertegaray, who had stitches in his head after a collision during the section final, was sporting a pretty serious bandage, but he said he has no hesitation going after balls in the air. “If I play scared, then it’s going to affect my game, and I don’t want to do that to my team,” he said. And finally, senior midfielder Preston Higgins didn’t practice today as he continues to nurse a stomach virus.
• One question that I had for a few of the guys is how hungry they are now that they’ve accomplished most of their goals. That question was dismissed pretty quickly. “We’re still hungry,” Suertegaray said. “We want to get that state title. I told my teammates, ‘We can’t be satisfied with a section title, or a regional title. We made it this far, we might as well win the state title.’ ”
• I’ve been doing some research on Fowler, and will be back tomorrow with a scouting report. Not many people have seen them play, but I have some notes on their top players and style of play.