Chemistry can be overlooked when it comes to measuring team success. But a unit that doesn’t jel can have its season derailed in a flash.
The Commack boys soccer team, comprised of 33 players, was struggling with its identity through the first four-and-a-half games this season. Most of the players are not on the same club teams and had yet to click. Then, its game against Bay Shore on Sep. 17 changed everything.
The Cougars were trailing, 3-2, in the second half. Coach Dave Moran pulled most of his starters because they were bickering with their opponent. Then, junior striker Jack Lagner scored the tying goal. But Lagner was down, writhing in pain as he got tangled up with the goalkeeper on the play and broke his fibula and tibia.
As Lagner was being put in the ambulance to go to Southside hospital, he asked his coach to put the starters back in and win the game. Moran obliged. Justin Galluzzo and Mike Maldonado scored the next two goals to secure a 5-3 win.
“That was the moment we all clicked,” Lagner said. “It is hard to describe, but I think everyone just came together and started playing together. The guys have supported me ever since the injury and I’ll never forget that.”
The team spends most of their time together now. They have pasta parties before games, eat breakfast after morning practices and celebrate wins at Applebee’s. They all flocked to Karma Hair Salon after the roster was finalized to get their hair-dyed blond, a 20-year tradition.
Lagner and Justin Salerno, a junior center back who broke his big toe against Connetquot on Sept. 13, have watched each game and practice from the sideline.
“The kids just don’t want to miss anything,” Moran said. “Everyone is afraid to not be a part of this and that is a testament to what these guys have accomplished.”
The four senior captains, Galluzzo, Kyle Gehnrich, Kyle Artura and Mike Principe, have enabled their teammates to feel comfortable in speaking up. Even if you are a freshman, your voice is heard.
“Age doesn’t always matter,” Galluzzo said. “We are all just playing as a team. So if you are telling someone where to be, it doesn't matter how old you are or what grade you are because we are on one team.”
During film sessions, the Cougars go over perfectly executed plays and poorly executed “botches.” Nearly every time a botch is called out, laughter ensues. Then they get serious and work on how to make sure the botch doesn’t happen again.
Two players who have had several highlight-reel goals this season are strikers Jackson Masters and Galluzzo. Galluzzo has the most goals (13) and Masters has eight to lead Commack to a 13-0-1 overall record.
“They just garner so much attention, they need to be double-teamed,” Moran said. “Then what happens is they draw the secondary defender and they have had nice chemistry finding space for each other.”
They also are comfortable finding other teammates. This year, 17 players scored at least one goal and 18 have at least one assist. About 20 kids make it into each game and all 33 enter the game when they have a comfortable lead.
“Everyone who comes off the bench, they contribute the way they play and they can score goals too,” Masters said.
As the playoffs approach, the team is focused on avoiding last year’s fate, a Suffolk semifinal loss to Whitman. Both of Whitman’s goals came on penalty kicks. It still bothers the returning players.
“I remember seeing all of the other seniors go home and not come back to play with all their friends,” Artura said. “That is something that I haven’t forgotten.”
There is something to be said about how they became one team and not just 33 individuals.
“I think these guys started to realize that there is a family at home,” Moran said. “But they also created one here in the locker room and on the field.”