The Long Island Rough Riders women’s team utilized a pair of Cs — chemistry and confidence — during the 2017 United Women’s Soccer season in order to achieve another C — a conference championship.
The Rough Riders found success on the field due to the players’ chemistry on it and off it. The players’ confidence, especially in front of goal, also grew immensely. Coupled together, those resulted in winning the 2017 UWS Eastern Conference championship and a spot in the UWS National Championship Semifinal.
“My goal was to create a strong cohesive team, while maintaining a fun environment for the girls to learn and improve,” said first-year coach Adam Whitehead, who was named 2017 UWS Eastern Conference Coach of the Year. “As the season went on, the team chemistry grew, which gave me belief that we could achieve great things and I’m happy with how the season turned out.”
Admittedly, Whitehead wasn’t sure what to expect ahead of his rookie season in the UWS, but his players sent a clear message of positive things to come with a 3-0 victory against 2016 UWS runner-up New Jersey Copa FC in the second match of the season.
That victory set the tone — both offensively and defensively — for the remainder of the campaign. The Rough Riders (8-2-2) scored a division-leading 35 goals during the regular season, while tying for the second-best defense (10 goals allowed).
“Our team knew we were good and the chemistry was there right from the start,” said captain and midfielder Kimberly Marra, who was named UWS Eastern Conference Player of the Year and to the all-league first team. “So when you have a team that is confident in every single one of its players, you are going to work harder, perform better, and ultimately get the best results.”
Scoring had been a major question coming into this year after the Rough Riders found the back of the net just 16 times in 2016. Being more aggressive in front of net at the behest of Whitehead led to Long Island scoring three or more goals in seven games, including five games with five-plus goals.
Morgan Santoro led the Rough Riders with 12 goals, while Kayla Saager (7 goals) and Erica Modina (6 goals) rounded out the top-three scorers.
“From the beginning of the season I instilled a positive, attacking mentality into the team,” Whitehead said. “Our attitude in each game was to play of the front foot, get forward quickly and to outshoot our opponents. With this attitude, the girls weren’t afraid of making mistakes in front of goal. As the goals kept flying in, our confidence grew which had a snowball effect.”
While the offense was firing on all cylinders, the defense was impressively as stout. Led by UWS All-Eastern Conference First Team defender Taylor Groth on the back line and goalie Melissa Guglielmo between the posts, the Rough Riders surrendered 13 goals in the regular season and playoffs with three shutouts.
“As a defender for the team, I take pride in saying we let in such few goals,” Groth said. “I think it really comes down to pride and love for our team. Each team member, from the starting 11 to the bench and to the girls streaming from home, were all relentless and would do anything to protect our goal and see our team succeed.”
Long Island began the season with a five-game unbeaten run (four wins) before suffering its first loss of the year at New Jersey Copa FC on June 25. The Rough Riders would avenge the blemish, handing Copa FC its first home loss of the year with a 5-1 win in the East Final on July 18. The Rough Riders stayed hot down the stretch, outscoring opponents 13-3 in the three games leading up to the UWS National Semifinal, losing in penalty kicks to eventual league champion Grand Rapids FC.
“After much success this year, it could be very easy for us to come back next year and just expect to win all over again,” Marra said. “I don’t believe this team will let that happen. I think if we come prepared and work hard from start to finish, we will succeed once again, and hopefully have another chance at the National Championship.”
BY: Michael LoRé