South Side boys’ soccer coach Fred Paul usually isn’t too concerned where the Cyclones are seeded in the Nassau Class A playoff tournament, although this season is different.
“All the playoff games are at the higher seeds so where we get seeded means more to me this year,” Paul said. “We want to play as many playoff games as possible on our field. I think if we finish well and nothing else changes throughout the county, we can be the 2-seed.”
The Cyclones were undefeated through seven games, winning five while battling Great Neck North and defending county champion Jericho to scoreless draws. The deadlock with Jericho on April 6 was enough to clinch the Conference A-IV crown with three contests remaining.
“We feel fortunate enough to be playing and talked about going out there and doing the best we can,” Paul said. “We’ve played only two games with our ideal lineup. We’ve shown some toughness and only allowed two goals so far.”
Senior Jack Schwartzberg (42 saves, 5 shutouts) assumed the starting goalkeeper role after serving as the backup in 2019. He’s answered the bell when called upon, Paul said, and is a strong communicator directing traffic in the box. Schwartzberg came up big against Jericho with a career-high 10 saves.
The defense has been steady if not spectacular, led by senior outside back Timmy Warner and junior sweeper James Fahey. Warner gets the toughest assignment each game, Paul noted, and is a phenomenal one-on-one defender with great field awareness. Fahey, the starting sweeper, has been “a rock,” the coach said. Other key pieces on the back end are senior Dylan Saltzman, a varsity returnee on the outside, and juniors Christian Varvaro and Danny Silecchia. Varvaro also sees time in the midfield.
While keeping opponents from doing damage on the scoreboard, the Cyclones are well-equipped to wreak havoc on the attack with the combination of senior captain Vasion Sinjari and sophomore Ryan McNicholas at striker. Sinjari has 7 goals, giving him 14 for his career, and handles all of the free kicks and corner kicks. McNicholas scored 7 and had a couple of assists as a freshman.
“Vasion is our best player and go-to guy,” Paul said. “He doesn’t need much space to shoot and he’s got a phenomenal leg.” Sinjari, who also has 3 assists, notched a hat trick in a 5-0 victory over Elmont. McNicholas, who plays at a fast pace and has a non-stop motor, had a goal and an assist in a 3-0 win over Kennedy.
In the midfield, South Side features talented freshman Stephen Nelson, who is a target on set pieces and has 3 goals. “He’s one of our highest-skilled players and has a lot of responsibility,” Paul said. Senior captain Jack Russo is thriving as a holding midfielder with senior Aidan Wilson and junior Natan Rubin on the outside. Seniors John Kenny and Hugh Rosshirt are playing important minutes off the bench, Paul said.
“We’re still trying to figure ourselves out, but we’ve settled into a nice rotation the past few games,” Paul said.