It took a while to evolve into its current state, but the back third of the field has become one of the true strengths for the Steinert boys’ soccer team this year.
And it’s kind of funny how the whole thing got put in place with three senior backs and a senior goalkeeper.
Mason Walczak and Kyle Grehan have been the constants, having been starting defenders since their sophomore year. Trevor Giordano took over in goal last year, and Aidan Ryan completed the flat-back three formation with Walczak and Grehan this season.
The group has played solid from the start, and although the Spartans had allowed 20 goals in a 13-4-2 start, much of that had to do with the way they play. Coach Anthony Tessein likes to push ample numbers into the attack, leaving the three red-headed defenders—known as the Red Menace—back on their own and at the mercy of a quick counter.
“Most teams have recognized that, and some teams have been able to exploit the numbers that we throw forward,” Tessein said. “That’s actually the thing that’s so great about them, they sniff out most of those counters to begin with. People will say, ‘Oh, all those goals, it must be the defense.’ I don’t think it’s fair to peg it on my three defenders, as much as a whole team defending issue by us pushing up. Occasionally, something will get through but more times than not, they prevent opportunities that should have been way more dangerous.”
And to think it all might not have come together without a strong sales pitch by Ryan in ninth grade.
As he prepared to join the freshman team, Ryan had a suspicion he was going to be asked to play goalie by coach Jim Giglio, since his older brother William had played the position. Ryan approached his buddy, Giordano, who had never played soccer in his life, to join the team as its keeper.
“Aidan didn’t want to play goalie, so he went and found a friend who he knew could catch,” Tessein said. “I think at that point Giglio was gonna take what he could get. Trevor was very athletic, and he turned into a goalie.”
That allowed Ryan to remain a defender. He played on the JV last year and saw little varsity action as a junior, but became the missing piece to the puzzle when he joined Grehan and Walczak this season.
“One hundred percent,” Walczak said. “I was telling Tessein, playing with these guys, it’s fun. I don’t want to say it’s easy, but it works. We work well together and it’s fun to play back there with them.”
Walczak plays in the middle, flanked by Ryan on the right and Grehan on the left.
“Ryan completed the group,” Tessein said. “The chemistry was enhanced by adding Aidan. Aidan played travel soccer with Mason for many years, they had a pretty good connection already. Last year, I didn’t feel Aidan was ready to start in varsity games. There was a physicality to it, and we had players that I thought were better and more prepared than he was, but he’s come in and been a real bright spot this season.”
Grehan and Walczak are former midfielders who converted to defense. They showed enough talent and aggressiveness to become sophomore starters.
Just how tough was that?
“Extremely,” Walczak said. “I was a little kid back then, I made it a goal the year after to get bigger and stronger to be able to play these games. The varsity game is different than anything else. It’s more physically demanding. We played the regular season as a four back and in our first game in states we switched to a three back. Ever since it’s kind of clicked, and we’ve been running with this formation.”
If Walczak was nervous that first season, he didn’t show it.
“Mason has been vocal since the time he got on the field,” Tessein said. “That kid could have been a captain as a sophomore. There’s never been a time where I hesitated to put Mason in the game. Kyle, over time, has become much more vocal and grown into a leadership role. He started out shy like you would expect out of a sophomore. Last year and into this year he is definitely a leader.”
Meanwhile, Ryan is making up for lost time.
“Aidan acts like he belongs this year, and he does belong,” Tessein said. “As a junior, he had the attitude that it was gonna be his year to learn, to watch, and when his opportunity came along he was going to take it, and he did that and more.”
In assessing his fellow backs’ ability, Walczak feels their biggest strength is their dependability.
“They’re reliable and they care,” he said. “Like everything it comes down to hard work and effort, and the two of them are outstanding at what they do.”
There is also a cohesion among the trio, which shouldn’t be a surprise. Walczak and Ryan have played together since age 8, while Walczak and Grehan are in their third year of high school ball together.
“It happens all the time, where Kyle comes in the middle and I slide out and we rotate positions and all of us can play all three positions,” Walczak said. “With me and Kyle, the best way to describe it is we can read off each other no matter what we do. These past three years I can’t tell you a time Kyle and I haven’t figured out if we messed up. We always work together to fix the problem if there is one.”
As for the on-field togetherness, it has helped having the group’s newcomer slide in so effectively.
“Aidan looks like he’s been playing there the whole time,” Walczak said. “He’s confident in what he does and he does very well. Kyle and I have the confidence to leave Aidan out on his own a little bit and let him do his job.”
Tessein, who raves about his defenders’ ability to win headballs, agrees with Walczak that a big strength is their chemistry.
“I think first and foremost they communicate really well and I think they can anticipate each other’s moves,” the coach said. “They understand how to distribute the ball. They want the ball at their feet. You see a lot of defenders that probably like playing defense because they don’t like having the ball. But all three of them want the ball, they want to be involved, which really works with our system.
“As a group, they’re just a full package. They’re fast, they can close down space, they’re physical when we need them to be physical, they can play finesse when we need them to do that. They’ve just really got a good read on the game.”
Helping coordinate it all is Giordano, who must control the defense from his goalkeeper’s box. A relative newbie to the sport compared to most keepers in the county, he showed his dedication to the program as a freshman when he skipped a family vacation in order not to miss two games.
“He had no connection to soccer, he was doing it for a buddy,” Tessein said. “He told his parents he wasn’t gonna take that trip because he’d let his team down. Two weeks into his soccer career, that kind of showed his commitment, and to me, it shows how much they all care about each other.”
Giordano has not only displayed dedication, but the ability to improve as well.
“The kid’s unbelievable,” Walczak said. “The skill he’s shown the last four year has been insane. He’s come up big for us this year and he’s just gotten better and better.”
Tessein feels that Giordano is a strong complement to the group and noted that, since they have all known each other growing up, they can provide constructive criticism that is not met with resistance.
“Trevor has improved with every year that he’s played,” the coach said. “And I think it helps to have three guys in front of him that have been playing since diapers. He’s learned a lot from them and I think they’re all able to now anticipate each other’s moves. They’re able to be instructive with each other and not take it to heart.”
The result has been a darn good group of defenders.