PEABODY — The Peabody boys soccer team didn’t take the easy route to the state tournament in 2017. Peabody started slowly, 3-4-1 through its first eight games, but caught up to speed in time to seal a berth in the Division 1 North tournament at 9-7-2.
This year’s team would like to avoid a slow start while aiming to replace the vacancies left by the 14 seniors from 2017’s roster.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Stan McKeen, who is entering his 23rd season as Peabody’s head coach. “I think we’ll do well. In the past two years, we’ve had some lousy starts. We went 3-4-1 to start last year and we started 1-5-1 the year before. We have to start fast right out of the gate next Thursday and not put ourselves in a hole to start the season.”
Peabody brings nine seniors to the fold this year, four with varsity experience. The Tanners will be led by tri-captains Johnny Alves (striker), Michael Tansey (defender) and Noah Surman (defender).
“The three captains I have are outstanding,” McKeen said. “Their leadership is outstanding. Their leadership’s showing on the field, especially. Without question they’re the three best players on the team. They’re great kids. They’ve earned the respect from the players in practice. I couldn’t have asked for three better leaders.”
Alves led the Tanners in goals scored last season and Peabody will rely on the senior striker to power the offense again this fall. Tansey and Surman return to anchor Peabody’s defense.
“We have to keep the ball out of our own net,” McKeen said. “The defense will definitely do that. Returning two of the starters will be huge for us. I think we’ll be fine up the middle.”
Also projected to play key roles this season are seniors Josh Atemkeng, Tulio Nascimento, and Juan Hernandez (transfer from Woburn), and sophomores Ramon Falcao and Banangoy Kayanga.
“I’m excited with the younger kids,” McKeen said. “We have five sophomores who have a lot of talent and it bodes well for the program. I have some really good juniors, some of them played junior varsity last year.”
Peabody graduated last year’s starting netminder, Troy Cappos. The Tanners have two juniors, Will Machado and Dominic Cunha, are currently competing for the starting goalie position. “We’re still working on who’s going to be the starting goalie,” McKeen said. “Will and Dominic are still fighting for job to see who’s going to start. We’re not entirely sure how we’re going to work it. About seven or eight years ago we had two good goalies and we split halves with them. Then we tried it again a few years later and it didn’t work, so we’ll see what happens.”
McKeen and the Tanners took the field for the first time last week and made their final roster cuts Monday. Numbers were solid for the Tanners with 63 hopefuls taking part during tryouts in hopes of landing a spot on one of Peabody’s three teams (varsity, junior varsity, freshman).
“Things have been good,” McKeen said. “We’re keeping pretty much 18 on each team. I think everything has gone well. Now we’ll get back to working with each individual team.”
As for the strength of this season’s team, McKeen said he projects skill to be at the forefront.
“I think the skill level will be our strength,” McKeen said. “I think we’ll be a very good passing team. That’s something we’ve lacked over the years. I think we’ll move the ball well on the ground. I’d say the strength for us is our skill.
“Being able to move the ball, I think that’s the key for us and not on the air,” McKeen said. “We have to be able to move it on the ground. These kids are skill players, no question about that.”
The Tanners will scrimmage against Triton Saturday, giving McKeen an opportunity to get a final look at his varsity team in a live game setting. Peabody opens the season next Thursday (September 6) when the Tanners host Medford.