In what was a boys soccer season unlike any other, these 12 athletes shined the brightest and made the most out of the shortened campaign.
Some helped guide rebuilding programs to the next step of their climb towards contention, while others helped consistent contenders maintain their spot among the best teams in the state.
One of those mainstays as a top club is Plainville, which reached the Central Connecticut Conference’s Region B championship game this year, before losing a close game to Farmington. Still, it was another successful season for the Blue Devils, who weren’t able to make their usual deep state tournament run, but the team’s strong play nets them four players on our All-Herald team, the most by any local squad.
Our team is highlighted by Plainville senior Pat Gryczewski, a repeat All-Herald selection who followed up his All-State junior season with a dynamic offensive campaign that included 14 goals and 10 assists. Gryczewski walks away from his Blue Devils career after starting all four years and helping the team claim an unforgettable state championship win in 2018.
“He’s a leader,” head coach Tim Brown said “His outstanding skills combined with his speed and game awareness makes him one of the best players to pass through the program. As dangerous as he is on the attack, he is equally capable on defense.”
Plainville was its usual strong self on the defensive end this season, posting four shutouts in total, and a lot of that goal prevention success was due to the play of Avery Palma. A first-year player with the varsity program, the junior put up three goals and four assists to go along with his shutdown defense, and should be a pillar for next year’s squad. Palma previously played with the New England Revolution Academy.
“He’s a rock solid defender with versatility and game awareness,” Brown said. “He’s a terrific communicator and game organizer.”
Siblings Tucker and Tanner Rau round out the Blue Devils’ entries after both putting up productive senior seasons, especially on the defensive end. Both were four-year starters and knew nothing but success during their time at Plainville.
“[Tucker] is truly a stay-at-home defender that’s never beaten,” Brown said. “He’s dominant in the air.”
Both Raus were praised by Brown for the consistent defense they brought to Plainville over the past four years.
“[Tanner] is a tough, hard-nosed, old school back that would start on any team he plays on,” Brown said. “He’s a crushing tackler and dominant in the air. He’s a nightmare for opposing forwards.”
Newington had a strong season with seven wins, and plenty of that success was due to the play of junior Christian Amaral. An all-conference selection last season, Amaral paced Newington’s offense by scoring 10 goals and dishing out 11 assists. He will no doubt be one of the area’s most dynamic goal scorers in 2021.
“Christian was our playmaker this season,” Newington head coach Jeff Brunetti said. “He performed at a high level, and what makes him so special aside from his obvious skill is his ability to create opportunities for the other players around him. Christian put in an incredible amount of work in the offseason and it paid off tremendously for him. He elevated his game to the next level this season and was completely unselfish in the process.”
Amaral was helped on the offensive end by senior captain Reed Campbell, who scored seven goals this season while assisting on 10 goals. Campbell will certainly be one of Brunetti’s most missed contributors next season.
“Reed is an absolute workhorse,” Brunetti said “His work rate was absolutely incredible and he also created many opportunities for us getting forward. Reed has speed as a forward and the ability to make things happen at any moment because of his relentless effort.”
Berlin continued its rebuilding process this season, but certainly took a step forward and picked up two dominant wins over Platt and Bulkeley to close out its season. One of the Redcoats’ top contributors was sophomore Colby Nardelli, who showed that he can be a key part of the program’s rebuild by scoring five goals to go along with his nine assists this season, finishing the year with 19 points. Nardelli, a repeat All-Herald selection, was an all-conference selection last season and will be one of head coach Sal Parafati’s top performers moving forward.
“Colby is a very technical player with great vision,” Parafati said. “The best part is he is only a sophomore. I’m so happy to have him back for two more years.”
Nardelli will be joined by returning star Adam Kozubal next season, who was a dynamic goal scorer for Berlin in 2020. The junior put up 14 goals and finished the year with 29 points, the best mark on the team.
Kozubal was best down the stretch of the season, scoring nine goals in his last four games, and tied a school record by netting five goals in a win over Bulkeley at Dillon Stadium.
“Adam has come into his own this season and has developed into a dangerous striker,” Parafati said. “I am thrilled to have him back for one more year.”
Southington, another rebuilding program, also took encouraging steps forward in 2020 behind first-year head coach Austin Magaro. Junior forward Liam Schroeder played a big role in the Blue Knights’ improvement from last year, scoring nine goals and picking up three assists, while being involved in 12 of the team’s 15 total goals this season.
“He was always in the right place at the right time,” Magaro said.
Goalkeeper Ryan Lunn seemed to have the same tendency for Southington. The junior posted four cleans sheets this season, and allowed the third-lowest goal total in the region.
“Ryan made big save after big save and kept us in every game,” Magaro said.
New Britain struggled again this season but logged an upset victory over the Blue Knights in the first round of their regional playoff bracket, which was the Hurricanes’ first victory of the season. In an otherwise tough year overall for New Britain, captain Cameron Naples led the team with three goals and three assists, and is already receiving interest from Southern New Hampshire University.
Staying in the Hardware City, Innovation junior Waseem Alsafari helped the Ravens to a strong six-win season, and would have likely been a force in the CRAL playoffs had Innovation not been forced to sit out due to quarantining. Still, Alsafari was the Ravens’ most dynamic playmaker on offense, and had a big game in a rivalry bout with Goodwin Tech when he scored two goals and picked up two assists in a dominant victory.