PEABODY — Tanners boys soccer coach Stan McKeen knew the 2019 season would feature its share of lumps and growing pains. Perhaps what he didn’t know is that Peabody would flourish on the go as the season progresses.
Peabody, 2-2 after its first four games, has since won seven of its last eight. The Tanners are now on the doorstep of a state tournament bid, needing just two more points to qualify for the Division 1 North sectional.
“Up until three or four games ago we weren’t generating enough offense in the attacking zone,” McKeen said. “We were playing good defense, we just weren’t pushing the ball to get scoring opportunities. Lately, we’ve done a much better job. We play a 4-4-2. We scored two goals in the second half against Billerica (3-2 win last Saturday) in a 4-3-3. We’ll stick with the 4-4-2 for a little bit and we’ll see how it develops. We just weren’t scoring goals at the start, without question.”
With just six returning varsity players, the Tanners came into the season counting on JV guys to step up to the plate. As the first-year varsity players gain familiarity with the pace of play on the varsity pitch, things begin to click.
“A big issue was them learning to play a varsity game as opposed to a JV game,” McKeen said. “It’s taken them a while to learn that it’s a whole different game. It’s taken them a while to build confidence in themselves. Hopefully it continues.”
Offensively, the Tanners have leaned on sophomore striker Kyle Joyce to lead the charge. Joyce has scored a team-high nine goals.
“Kyle reminds me a lot of Johnny Alves and Luke Finkelstein,” McKeen said. “He’s aggressive, works hard all the time, he’s always in motion, he’s always looking to find the net. He’s really starting to come on. The kids feed off him. He’s not a big kid but his intensity has helped the team. He’s been a huge aspect of our offense.”
Freshman center-midfielder Victor Maciel has netted six goals.
“Victor has some size,” McKeen said. “He’s tall, he’s got excellent skills. Earlier in the season he wasn’t used to playing a physical game. He’s learning about playing at the varsity level as a freshman. He’s taken some lumps earlier in the season. He’s a nice kid that does his job. He’s made two penalty kicks this season.”
Senior striker Edward Santos has scored five goals. Senior outside midfielder Kyle Morfis has seven assists, while Maciel and senior defender Ben Kemp have dished four assists each.
“(Morfis) is a blue-collar kid that just works hard,” McKeen said. “He’s a physical player and we don’t have a ton of physical player. He has worked hard to make himself a leader, both on and off the field.”
Defensively, Kemp and junior Nick Sablone lead the way.
“I’m happy with our defense,” McKeen said. “I thought they were carrying us earlier in the season, to some extent. I think it’s one of our strong suits. They played very well in the Billerica game and that was a physical game.”
Seniors Dom Cunha and Will Machado have split the goaltending duties. McKeen has opted to alternate between the two of them and has come away impressed with both.
“They’ve both done a great job,” McKeen said.” Will can punt the ball a mile. Dom can really throw the ball. They both have their strong points and weak points. They’ve done the job and I can’t complain. As good as your offense and defense is, you still need goaltending.”
McKeen added a career milestone earlier this week when he collected his 250th career win in a 7-0 victory over Saugus.
“I’ve been blessed with really good kids over the years,” McKeen said. “That has helped me with my longevity with coaching. The kids that come through our program have been very good. I’ve had great coaching staffs. We all work well together. But you can’t do it without great kids.”
The Tanners, now in the closing stretch of their regular season, travel to Marblehead Thursday (4).
“We want to come out with the best record we possibly can,” McKeen said. “We need two points to qualify and then we want to get a good seed. We’ve struggled getting beyond the first round but we’re hoping to eclipse that this year. We still need to qualify and hopefully we do.”