When Adriana Salzano was an 8th grader at Reynolds, Princeton Day School girls’ soccer coach Pat Trombetta wanted to watch her play since she was headed to PDS the next year.
When Salzano provided her schedule, Trombetta was somewhat surprised and impressed at one of his options.
“She said, ‘I’m over at Robbinsville practicing on a turf field and playing pick-up games with a men’s league,’” the veteran coach said with a laugh. “She said, ‘Why don’t you come by and see me there.’ I actually wanted to go see her play on her (travel team) and how she played against other girls. But that’s pretty awesome when you have an eighth grader that’s playing in a men’s league.”
Salzano showed just how awesome this past fall, when she led PDS in both goals (9) and assists (6) as a freshman. Her efforts helped the Panthers to a 10-game winning streak after they lost their opener.
Since season’s end, Salzano has received awards from numerous media outlets from around the state as she hardly looked like a freshman on the field.
“Obviously we knew she was a talented player coming in but the transition to varsity soccer was seamless for her, which doesn’t always happen,” Trombetta said. “We were excited to bring her in and she made immediate contributions. We needed another goal-scorer; she filled that void as far as getting us a number of goals and a number of key goals.
“You can see she’s played with older players and more experienced players in the past. As a freshman she wasn’t frightened by the big stage. She played well in the big games.”
Much of that transition had to do with Salzano’s soccer upbringing, including her dalliance into the men’s league. She decided to join at age 13 with her friend Christina Rosica, whose father runs it. The two go against players in their 20s and 30s.
“They loved us,” Salzano said. “We were treated as one of them. I also play in a men’s league for basketball, and honestly they push me around. It’s better, it makes me tougher. I got used to it and now I can hold my own. They’ll definitely try to take the ball off you in soccer, they’ll nudge you and push you around and at the end of the day it just makes you a better player. I loved every second of it, it was amazing.”
And while that experience helped make Salzano a more physical player, she honed her technical skills while playing for some quality travel programs. After starting in Hamilton Rec at age 4, Salzano went to the Hamilton Wildcats, New Jersey Rush of Hamilton and, for the past two years she has been with FC Bucks ECNL.
“Moving around to different clubs you get to see different styles of coaching,” Salzano said. “It was good to get different styles so you could adapt to things. Playing up on Rush and FC Bucks we would scrimmage against older teams. If you’re gonna play on varsity you have to be prepared to play against a senior as a freshman. By the time I got to high school I was used to playing against older people.”
Her savvy was on display in the opening game when Salzano scored a goal, but it was in vain as Monroe took a 3-2 win. It was a disappointment the Panthers would not endure for the remainder of the shortened season, despite losing two senior starters to injury in the setback. They would lose a third several games later.
“After that loss everybody was like ‘what are we gonna do?” Salzano said. “Coach T said there are two ways to look at this, like ‘Hey, we can feel sorry for ourselves, or we’re gonna do this and fight back.’ That’s the option we chose. We did not give up the entire season and we didn’t lose again.”
Part of the reason for that was Salzano’s ability to drop from forward to attacking midfielder after the health issues emerged. It was the reversal of her situation while playing with the Rush, when injuries forced her from the midfield to forward.
“They told me, ‘You’re a finisher, you can do this,” Salzano said.
They were right. Thus, she was equipped to play either position when Trombetta asked.
“She stepped in that midfield role,” the coach said. “We said let’s give her a shot. It maybe took her one game to figure out what we wanted from that position and she did very well there the rest of the season.”
Salzano was remarkably consistent wherever they put her. She had eight goals and six assists during the winning streak, scoring goals in seven of the 10 games and gaining assists in five. Her biggest goal was the game-winner in a 2-1 victory over Hunterdon Central, which was ranked No. 1 in the state at the time.
“She always finds herself in the right spot,” Trombetta said. “She always finds the open space. And she’s a finisher. A lot of times you have athletic girls up top but they struggle to score goals. She’s a natural goal scorer.”
That natural ability allows Salzano to make the game look easy. She has a knack for finding open teammates, and applies a smooth, clean touch on the ball when delivering shots or passes.
“I’m always looking for an assist, I’m always looking to find people,” Salzano said. “I think that’s why I’m destined to be a midfielder because that’s always been a part of my game.”
As is her uncanny ability to score goals, be it on her own or with help.
“I feel like I can create my own shot but a lot of it comes from bing-bang passing within each other,” Salzano said. “It’s that last pass where you can touch and shoot. I felt that’s what we were really good at this year, the combination plays. Our team meshed so well. Our chemistry was amazing.”
It’s a credit to Salzano that she fit in so easily and a credit to her upperclassmen teammates for allowing her to mesh, as sometimes older players become jealous of a newcomer. It would be hard for a teammate not to like Salzano, if only for the desire she displays.
“She’s passionate about the sport,” Trombetta said. “She’s the first one to practice; she’s always got a ball at her feet. Before she came here, she would come watch us play a couple games and she would have a ball at her feet just coming to watch us. I knew she was the real thing just by her level of interest in the sport.
“What makes her special is she’s very coachable too. She accepts any constructive comments very easily. I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about her. She’s a great addition.”
She will be a great addition to several PDS teams, as Salzano was league MVP in her age group playing for St. Gregory’s in CYO basketball last year, and she plays high level travel softball. Asked what sport is her favorite, she said, “I love them all the same; it’s really hard to choose.”
Trombetta, who feels Salzano is one of the top impact freshmen he has ever had, sees first-hand her enthusiasm for other arenas.
“She’s always going from one field to another,” he said. “I try to slow her down and let her rest for upcoming games and then I see her running to a car, and she’s off to another practice in another sport.”
Sometimes it’s with a whole other age group and gender.
And she has become better off for it.