WILMINGTON — For the Wilmington High School Boys Soccer team, it's been a tale of two halves over this decade.
In the first five years, the Wildcats combined for a record of 59-21-21 and made five state tournament appearances, losing three times in the sectional semi-finals. Over the last four years, the team has struggled to a 19-39-14 record and have missed out on tourney play all four years.
In 2018, Wilmington competed in most games but had a hard time finding the back of the net and finished with a 3-11-4 overall record. Gone from that team are 11 seniors and another player who switched sports.
This year's roster has some players with skill, but lack of overall experience, lack of numbers throughout the program and going up against seven teams that made the tournament a year ago are always concerns heading into any season. Despite all of that, Scanlon said there's potential to get back to winning more than just a few games.
"It's early and we always start the season cautiously optimistic," he said. "We have a depth problem across the (entire) program compared to what we are playing against (in the Middlesex League). We have forty-eight kids out for three teams and it's a little bit up from a year ago only by about six kids, so you have the deck stacked against you against some of these teams.
"We do have enough skill to win us some games but we're going to have to do a lot right (in order for that to happen),” he continued. “They are a positive group and the attitude has been good. The work ethic is good. Starting the season against the iron, no matter sport it is, is tough. We have a non-league game mixed in early against Beverly so if we could get that one, it could help us (with confidence)."
The Wildcats open the season on Thursday night at Belmont for a 7:30 pm game, and actually are on the road for six of the first seven games with additional stops at Beverly for a non-leaguer, Winchester, Burlington, Wakefield and Stoneham. Belmont, Winchester and Stoneham all reached the tournament last year, as did other ML teams Lexington, Arlington (16 wins each) and Watertown (13 wins).
"In this league, in soccer (it's very competitive). There was a point last year when six teams of the top 20 teams in all Eastern Mass where from our league so the deck is severely stacked against you," said the coach. "We had some pretty good players last year and we were in some games and we were competitive, but we would lose games 2-1 or we would miss opportunities that we got so it's been tough. We finished 3-11-4 last year and it's been much of the same the last few years."
With win totals of five, five, six and three over the last four years, Scanlon decided that it was time to change things up formation wise, and he's entertaining a number of different possibilities. As of last Thursday, he said the team will be going to a 4-1-4-1 formation, but left it wide open for that to change.
"It gives us an extra person defensively and this way you can get numbers back defensively and numbers up offensively," he said. "We'll see how it works. We're looking at a couple of different formations right now."
The formation means that the team will have just one striker, then four midfielders and then one floating player so to speak in front of four defenders.
"If it works, we're going to rotate the one striker, but if we find that we're not generating enough offense (we'll change things up)," he said. "The idea of it is the striker is the holding player. As the middies play the ball up to him, they go with him and then all of a sudden you can have four or five guys on the attack.
“The players ran it a bit in the summer league and it was effective. In theory, when the middies join, you could flare the ball out to the flanks, or bring it back in when you have numbers coming in. We're going to look at it anyway, and try something different. We're just looking for something different."
Scanlon was asked what made him want to tinker with different systems, moving off the "diamond" formation that has been the team’s bread-and-butter for years, especially the most successful ones.
"The one (system) that we have been using, just isn't working for us so I'm looking at some different stuff," he answered. "We might use five guys in the back and go with that 5-3-2 so you have like a triangle midfield.
“We're trying anything. We're looking at stuff for when we're in games where we know we're not going to control (possession). Can we stay in the game and still have a chance (to pull out a win)? Or maybe we can upset someone. You play well defensively, and you can counter and score a goal. We have done it a few times."
In order to turn things around in the win column, the Wildcats will need to stay healthy and of course score goals.
Defensively, the team could be pretty strong with the likes of juniors Alex Fitzler and Patrick O'Mahony, playing along side senior captain Taylor Padulsky, and most likely junior Patrick Xavier, who is up from the JV team.
"Defensively, I think we can be pretty good," said Scanlon. "Fitzler, O'Mahony and Padulsky are all pretty good defenders. Patrick Xavier is a big, strong athletic kid who is up from the JV team and he'll probably be the fourth defender."
Providing depth on defense will include juniors Chris Wong and Ryan Forcina, while senior Domenic Ardizzoni is out with an injury for six weeks.
Playing in front of those four defenders will be senior tri-captain Ryan Clarke, and playing behind them is junior keeper Justin Healey.
"Clarke will play all over the field. He can play some midfield and he can play some defense. He is our one rover in front of our defense," said Scanlon. "Healey looks good. His weakness is height, with balls over him because he's not very tall. But he's pretty agile and he makes some pretty good saves going horizontal. He has some good defenders in front of him and we're going to try to keep the ball out of '18 (yard box) and ultimately out of our net."
The back-up goalie will be sophomore Liam Dwyer.
The obvious hope is to keep the ball out of their own net and into the opposing team's net. And the ‘Cats will look to a handful of players to hopefully do just that. Junior Aidan McGrath is a skilled player who will be one of the team's key players in the middle, while, senior captain Aeden Vitale and senior Rocco Scalfini are back from last year's club.
"Anay Gandi and Christian O'Neil are both new, but good young players who can play both midfield and the striker positions. DJ Ricuperio is new and will be a reserve midfielder," said Scanlon. "Aidan is our strongest skilled player and he can play either one of those spots, striker or midfielder.
“Chris Bernazani is new and he'll see time at both positions and Vitale and Scalfani are returning players. Kevin Palmerino will be some striker and midfield. We can mix and match that way."
Sophomore Christian O'Neil is a midfielder as well.
Also in the mix for the striker position will be Matt Pendenza and Cal Dipesa, who has been ill for several weeks and should return soon. Senior Jonathan Alverez is a striker, who is up from the JV team.