The East boys soccer team has positioned itself to win its second City League title — and first since 1996 — not because of a systematic overhaul or an infusion of talent.
The Blue Aces are playing the same style they always have under Dylan Gruntzel, and they actually graduated the majority of their lineup from a 12-win team last season.
What is accelerating East (7-2-1, 4-0-1 City League) toward its postseason goals is the attribute teams either have or they don’t: chemistry.
“They’re playing for each other right now, they’re not playing for themselves anymore,” Gruntzel said. “I think this team realized if you put it together as an 11, then it’s easier to win games. I think that’s why we’re starting to beat all of these good teams.”
It’s true East has turned away all comers this season, as Bishop Carroll (5-1 win), Kapaun Mount Carmel (3-2), and Northwest (2-1) have all fallen short. North has been the only league team to produce a result against East, a 3-3 tie.
Keeper Diego Garcia has been outstanding, with Tre Thomas completing the transition to right back seamlessly as his top defender. Emilio Montanez, Rodrigo Amaya, and Angel Lopez have won nearly every game in the midfield for East, and forward Brayan Martinez commands a double team whenever he enters the offensive third.
“They’re having fun, they’re smiling, they’re laughing, but most importantly, they’re working hard at the same time,” Gruntzel said. “Right now it’s producing results.”
East will have a chance to clinch the title next week, as it takes on Heights on Tuesday and West next Thursday.
And the team is well aware of how long it’s been since the last time that’s happened.
“I think my seniors would have just been born,” Gruntzel said, laughing. “That’s been their goal from the start and they’re almost there.”
It is frustrating but somewhat predictable for first-year coach Mark Brooks, who has always been more offensive-minded. The team didn’t come together until late in the summer and had to transition quickly to a new coach after the departure of Tom Nykamp.
Although it plays a tough schedule. Trinity is 5-4 with just 15 goals scored in those nine games.
“We just need to start taking more shots,” Brooks said. “Sometimes it looks like we’re waiting for the perfect one and it never comes. I’ve always been of the mindset that you shoot first and ask questions later.”
The positive is that the defense, led by shut-down centerbacks Quentin Manzi and Brenden Weathers, has allowed just over one goal per game. That’s keeping the Knights in contention every game, something Brooks is confident the team will be able to capitalize on once it sorts out its offense.
Trinity will play South on Tuesday, then at Bishop Carroll next Thursday.