KP Boys Soccer Team Aiming for Tournament Berth
KP’s captains include, from left, Sean McCarthy, John Pfeiffer, Caleb Cassetta-Waxman, and Stephen Griffin.
By Ken Hamwey
Staff Sports Writer
Mike O’Neill is in his third year as coach of the King Philip boys soccer team and he’s optimistic his Warriors can register another winning season, even though the Warriors lost 13 seniors from last year’s 5-4-4 squad.
The 51-year-old O’Neill, who took the coaching reins in 2019, began his career by guiding KP to an 8-4-6 campaign that eventually ended in the playoffs where the Warriors bowed in the first round to New Bedford. This year’s contingent is off to a slow start, losing a pair of one-goal matches to Foxboro and Taunton. KP, however, has some key strengths that no doubt are fueling O’Neill’s positive outlook.
“Our players are technically skilled and have a high soccer IQ,’’ he noted. “We’ve also got instinctive players and quality leadership. We have the ability to attack on the outside and our players are creative – able to break down defenses and pass effectively to provide scoring opportunities. We’re not as experienced as last year, so we’re hoping our juniors and sophomores will contribute.’’
KP’s goals for this season are to contend for the Kelly-Rex Division title in the Hockomock League and to qualify for tournament play.
“Milford is the defending Kelly-Rex champ and they’ll be in the mix again,’’ O’Neill said. “Franklin also looks strong. They’ve got senior leadership, talented players, and strong tradition. They’re also well-coached. It’ll be a wide-open competition. If we qualify for the tourney, we’d obviously like to advance as far as possible.’’
O’Neill is acutely aware of the value of tourney experience. His players qualified in his initial season but post-season play was eliminated last year because of the coronavirus.
“To succeed in the tourney takes lots of mental preparation,’’ O’Neill emphasized. “Everyone has to be focused and on the same page. Team chemistry is a big key but you need some luck, too. It’s a time and a place when kids can do something special.’’
The Warriors four senior captains are leaders who definitely can be special. They include midfielders Caleb Cassetta-Waxman, Stephen Griffin and John Pfeiffer, and outside back Sean McCarthy.
“Caleb is the engine room of our midfield,’’ O’Neill said. “He makes everything work. He’s creative, has a high soccer IQ, reads the game beautifully, is an excellent passer, and he’s solid in transition. Stephen, who can also play wing, is creative and he’s a terrific attack dribbler. A four-year player, we’ll rely on his experience. John has tremendous leadership ability. He’s a solid technical player and a very competitive athlete. Sean, who’s an excellent two-way player, can create on the offensive end. He’s a great competitor and athlete.’’
Two other seniors — wing/striker John MacEachen and outside back Dan Fifolt — will be counted on heavily.
“John is a tremendous competitor who plays with pace and a desire to score,’’ O’Neill said. “We’ll rely on his offensive capabilities. Dan is versatile, has terrific close control, and is athletic. Highly skilled, he always seems to make the best decisions under pressure.’’
Two key juniors will be major keys in helping KP’s offense. They are Matt Crago, an attacking midfielder, and striker Oliver Blackburn.
“Matt is our most talented offensive player,’’ O’Neill offered. “He can finish plays, create opportunities for others and he understands how to break down defenses. Oliver’s hold-up play is excellent, he has great instincts in the box and knows how to finish.’’
Sophomore Dermott Amorim can play either on the wing or in midfield. “Dermott is quick, talented and versatile,’’ said O’Neill. “We’ll rely on him to contribute early on in his career.’’
Another sophomore, striker Tommy Lomuscio, made a positive impression in KP’s opener at Foxboro. Although the Warriors lost, 5-4, Lomuscio scored two goals and assisted on two others. “Tommy is intense, he’s got a sky-high soccer IQ and he has a terrific nose for the goal,’’ O’Neill said.
A trio of juniors O’Neill is banking on includes outside back Turag Ikbal and midfielders Matt Thompson and Andrew Seropian. “It’s important for this group to make positive contributions,’’ O’Neill said. “They’re versatile and can play multiple positions.’’
The current season isn’t a compete return to normalcy after a COVID-19 campaign last year, but O’Neill is optimistic on that front, too. “We’ve got some form of a normal season but the process is continually unfolding,’’ he said. “More vaccinations can only be a plus.’’
What was a plus was the way KP’s players handled all the restrictions and regulations forced by the pandemic. “Our kids were incredible and heroic,’’ said O’Neill, who is a professor of philosophy at Providence College. “They adjusted beautifully. They played with masks on and they competed with enthusiasm. Our team and our community learned how to endure both uncertainty and difficult circumstances.’’
O’Neill’s philosophy classes no doubt could learn a lot about the keys to competing if they listen closely to his athletic philosophy.
“If my players are reaching their potential and enjoying their athletic experience, then winning will follow,’’ he said. “I try to emphasize leadership, which includes service to the community.
Life lessons can also be learned through sports — like setting goals, overcoming adversity, and being accountable. Difficult things are worth doing because positive results usually follow. By challenging yourself, you learn a lot about yourself.’’
A high school captain and all-star in Long Island, N.Y. and Allendale, N.J., O’Neill later played soccer for a year and a half at Fordham University where he earned a bachelors degree. He has a masters and PhD from Catholic University.
It doesn’t take a PhD, however, to understand why his first two teams achieved winning records. All one has to do is analyze his coaching style.
“Being well-organized on defense is important,’’ he stressed. “Also very important are reliance on possession of the ball, quick transitions and incisive passing.’’