VYPE U: Stratford Soccer shows off their playoff potential
As Stratford's men's soccer team plows through district play, they begin to look towards the playoffs. The are hoping to redeem themselves for a loss to Eisenhower HS that they suffered in the first round two seasons ago.
Since then, the team has grown tremendously, using the first-round loss in 2018 and failure to clinch playoffs in 2019 as their main motivators for this season.
"Our mindset hasn't changed [over the past two seasons]," said junior Nathan Siciliano, the team captain of this year's squad. "We're still excited and nervous, but once we get going, we're more fired up. That doesn't go away when we play in big games like that."
The team got off to a hot start, finishing in first place after the first half of district play, only having lost to Cy-Creek and tied Cypress Falls, sitting at 5th and 4th respectively.
Despite a strong first round, the team knows the challenges to come.
"I know we can make it to playoffs," Siciliano said. "But we can't let that get to our heads, that's when our quality of play starts to drop."
The team learned this one the hard way, dropping a winnable game against Cy-Creek, "We went into the game with the wrong mentality," Siciliano said. "We were expecting an easy game and we were wrong. They gave us a tough game and we didn't come out on top."
The loss was an important wake-up call for the young Spartans, a team comprised of nine underclassmen, one of the youngest Stratford squads in years.
"We knew we had to respond. We turned it around later in that week with a win against Northbrook. I'm glad we lost that game. It taught us a lesson," Siciliano said.
Now the team is heading into their second round of district play, hoping to keep their position on top of the rankings, but that fight won't be an easy one. The Spartans have recently suffered a loss to district rivals Spring Woods at home, with a devastating 3-1 finish.
"It was really dumb," Siciliano said, clearly frustrated with the loss. "No one showed up to play, they wanted it more than we did that day," he finished.
After the tough loss to rivals, the Spartans have struggled to regain their footing, tying another winnable game against Cypress Ridge.
But Siciliano still remains concentrated, knowing he has to help his team fight through the hard weeks.
"Everyone has good days and bad days. Sometimes you have to win ugly because a win is a win. You always know when you're having a bad day, and that's why fighting through that last set or recovering after a bad touch is so important in practice," Siciliano said.
Nevertheless, Siciliano knows this year will be different from the rest.
"This year we're a family," he said. "We go out and we play and we get on to each other about certain things because we all want the best for the team."
This camaraderie shows through the Spartans gameplay, beating most opponents with their dominant midfield presence, led by attacking center midfielder Jack Mankey and holding center midfield Milan Jokic. With a 4-1-4-1 formation, communication and passing are keys to success, without them, the team is left stagnant on the field and goal-scoring opportunities are more than limited.
As one of the two center-backs, Siciliano's ability to move up the defense and pass into midfield is integral in the Spartans scoring. Since his freshman year, he has worked to command the defense creating opportunities for his wingers and striker.
"I've definitely improved since my freshman year. I handle the speed of play better and my soccer IQ has developed, I feel calmer when I play now," Siciliano said.
Taking all of this into consideration, the Spartans are more than capable of taking first in district and heading to playoffs, but will the competition of their district overcome the young team?