In addition to a wealth of talent and experience, Garden City’s title ambitions will be fueled by the motivation to finish the job they left incomplete last season.
The Trojans earned the top seed in the Nassau Class A boys soccer playoffs last year and reached the county finals, before being upset by Mepham, 1-0.
“It's definitely, for these guys, a little unfinished business,” Garden City coach Paul Cutter said. “It's a big motivation for these guys to try to win a county championship. We have core group of seniors ... and I would think this is probably as talented a group of players as I've ever had.”
That roster includes Joe Griffin and Owen Heaney, two of the better players in the county.
Griffin has been a stalwart in goal the past two seasons, combining to make 165 saves during that time. The senior has experience in the biggest games, leading the Trojans to the state semifinals in 2017 after making 12 saves in the Long Island championship game.
Aside from his skill of stopping shots, Griffin also excels at distributing the ball, which is key to Garden City’s possession-based approach.
“He's probably one of the most technically talented players we have,” Cutter said. “He could easily play on the field, but he gives us that extra advantage of being able to play out from the back.”
Up front, Heaney had eight goals and 16 assists last season, and his 24 points are the most for a returning player in Nassau.
“He's just a really good all-around forward,” Cutter said of Heaney. “His hold-up play is excellent, he can shoot with his left or his right foot and he definitely brings others into the game, as the number of assists he gets shows. He's such a threat that he opens up areas of the field for other guys to be successful.”
In addition to the talents of Heaney and Griffin, a skilled midfield and backline are other factors that could separate the Trojans from the pack.
Tommy Aneser leads in the icentral defense and will be joined Billy Castoro, who is back from an injury that kept him out last season. His return will push Ethan Senatore from the backline into the midfield, alongside Joe Bernieri and the versatile Joe McNiff.
“It’s such a strong core of the team,” Cutter said of his midfield. “They'll do a great job in possession. They're very creative, they can pick out a pass and they can get forward.”
As good as Cutter’s team looks, their route back to the county finals and beyond does not look easy.
“The A's are always just stacked. It,” Cutter said. “I feel like it is the hardest thing, to win a Class A county championship.”
South Side will be one of the teams looking to challenge the Trojans, and return Danny Kelleher and Robert Reis from a team that went unbeaten in the regular season and earned the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
Kelleher is another of the top goalies in the county, making 198 saves over the past two seasons. Reis controls the midfield.
Jericho will have a strong midfield, led by Jordan Miller and Paolo Martino.
“We have a senior-heavy team and I think the guys we’re returning are ready to make a push,” Jericho coach Dani Braga said. “If we stay true to how we play, I think we are going to be tough to beat. ... The top few teams are going to be neck and neck with each other.”
Lawrence features forward Mauricio Puerto-Quintanilla, who had 15 goals and six assists last season to earn first-team All-Long Island honors. He will be supported by talented midfielder Danny Cifuentes.
Reigning champion Mepham graduated a number of key pieces from last year’s squad, but county coach of the year Zachary Gosse has built his program to a level where it should remain a key player.
Port Washington surged to the Long Island championship last season and will look to carry that momentum into 2019. Jose Lima-Sagastume and Jack Fridman anchor a strong midfield and are joined by Dougy Barrera.
The Vikings were the No. 8 seed last season, but edged top-seeded Syosset in the opening round of the playoffs, before knocking off No. 5 Farmingdale in the semifinals and No.3 Massapequa in the county final. They then beat Whitman to claim the Long Island title, before losing 1-0 in the state semifinals.
The Chiefs’ efforts to get back to the county title will be led by the midfield duo of Brian Boylan and Owen McGarity.
Syosset is led by Jack Wagner, who returns to the Braves after playing academy soccer for the past three years.
Westbury earned the No. 2 seed in the county playoffs last season and returns Diego Turcios and Andy Plasencia.
Plainview JFK, Farmingdale and Uniondale should be in the mix as well.
Carle Place has a bit of unfinished business of its own, as the Frogs fell in penalty kicks in the state regional finals to Briarcliff of Section 1.
Forwards Chris Deveau and Kevin Graca and midfielder Gio Fabiano were all key pieces last season and will be back as the team tries to repeat as Long Island champions.