By Desirée Keegan
With a 2-1 win over West Islip Oct. 7, the 8-1-1 Newfield boys’ soccer team is one step closer to being named League III champions.
The route to that ultimate goal will continue to challenge the Wolverines, with teams like West Islip fighting for postseason life, and others, like No.1 Smithtown West (10-1), challenging them for the top spot.
“We told them that against a lot of teams that are fighting for their playoff lives, it’s going to get chippy,” Newfield head coach Jamie Santiago said. “But they need to maintain composure, because a lot of teams are going to get them off their game and push them out of their element.”
West Islip did just that in the first half. After scoring the first goal of the game, tempers flared and pushing and shoving resulted in multiple yellow cards for both teams.
Heading into halftime still down a goal, the referees pulled aside captains from both teams to talk about the physicality.
“It happens — they talk — it’s a game, and I told the team to just relax,” senior center back John Alves said. “We’re trying to win the league here, so I told my guys to keep their hands down, get the ball, calm down and to just play our game.”
The Wolverines opened up the second half very differently. They finally broke through midfield and into West Islip’s zone.
Almost 10 minutes into the second half, senior midfielder Anthony Mauri grabbed a pass, raced around his opponents through midfield, and sent the ball up top to Rafael Celanti. One-on-one with a defender as he made his way to the box, the sophomore midfielder and center forward won the battle, and stuffed the ball into the left corner past a diving goalkeeper to even the score.
“I thought the defender was going to come in at me, so I took a touch forward and got past him,” Celanti said. “Then, it was just me and the goalie and I tapped it into the corner and felt a rush of excitement. This was an important win.”
Celanti had plenty of other opportunities in the game, which impressed his coach.
“Raphael Celanti had a great game,” Santiago said. “He scored, and he missed a couple of headers, but he was just all over the field creating a lot of opportunities. I thought our center midfielders also played a great second half.”
Winning the 50/50 balls was a key to the team’s second-half success.
“When you go down you think you’re going to keep getting scored on, but our team, we get back up — our hearts are always in the game,” Alves said. “So we kept possession — winning the first and second ball — we’re not scared of going into tackles, we’re not scared of shooting the ball. It’s all about going hard and having heart.”
With 14 minutes left, senior forward Michael DiDominico headed in the game-winner.
“We gave up a bad goal early — we got punished for being slow out of the gate — but as the game went on we built momentum and finally started playing the way we’re capable of, and we turned the tide our way,” Santiago said. “That’s what good teams do. They find a way to win even when they’re not playing their best game.”
He’s hoping his team can do the same thing against Smithtown West Oct. 14. Newfield faced off against the Bulls Sept. 17 and came out on top 2-0, handing the team its only loss of the season.
“It’s a really, really big game,” Santiago said. “Hopefully they can pull out a big win. We have good senior leadership with a great core of young kids — we start five sophomores out of the 11 — and it’s just a good mix. This is one of the best teams I’ve had in my 12 years being a coach. They’re going to fight to the end.”