NEW BRITAIN – The construction of a rebuild can often be rooted in patience, allowing a team to buy into a new culture or system that takes the program back to a place of success. These rebuilds rarely have a set timeline and rarely go exactly according to plan, but they also offer steady doses of hope with each checkpoint that suggests the blueprint of an ascension is playing out on the field or the court.
For the Southington boys soccer team and its first-year head coach Austin Magaro, that first checkpoint is being made into as simple an objective as possible: find the back of the net and go from there.
“This is a team that needs confidence, and if they see a ball hit the back of the net, these guys are going to light up,” Magaro said. “If they see a goal go in, that’s going to go a long way.”
The Blue Knights were unable to check that box during Thursday’s season opener against New Britain, battling to a scoreless tie at Veterans Stadium due to new covid-19 restrictions eliminating overtime periods, but Magaro was still able to pick up his first point as head coach of the team he once played for himself, and walked away from his head coaching debut knowing that the team’s coveted first goal could be the spark that ignites the rebuild.
“Coming off of a couple tough seasons, I think this team isn’t used to winning,” Magaro said. “If we can just see the ball go in, I think we become a whole different animal.”
It’s been a tough few years for the Blue Knights, who last reached the postseason in 2017 before falling into a brutal stretch that included a 3-10-3 record last season and a 3-11-2 finish in 2018. The program was riding high after winning its first-round matchup in upset fashion against Conard in the first round of the 2017 Class LL state tournament, but ever since its loss to eventual state champion Glastonbury just days later, the Blue Knights have been searching for a route back to that success. Magaro sees a team hungry to get there, and is waiting for that first goal, that first major step, towards turning the team’s belief into tangible evidence that things are moving in the right direction.
“We’ve been putting in a lot of work in the offseason,” Magaro said. “These guys have really gone hard at this preseason and taken advantage of every opportunity.”
Opportunities were limited during the offseason due to covid-19 restrictions and the virus’ impact on scheduling, which has now limited the regular season to 12 contests, and the exact postseason format, which will almost certainly be much different than normal, has yet to be finalized. Southington was looking forward to this season as a chance to show it was not the same Blue Knights of the past two years, but given the circumstances surrounding them, the goals have slightly changed, though the new goals still hope to lead the program to the same success it has been looking to return to since 2017.
“With so much going on, the goal is to just get the season in and give these guys every opportunity to play,” Magaro said. “That’s what they deserve. We’re going to fight for every point we can get. If they can start getting a goal early in a game, that can change everything.”
Southington nearly had that early goal on Thursday, slanting the field towards New Britain’s net for the opening 20 minutes of play and generating multiple quality scoring chances. None resulted in goals, but on the field, the Blue Knights could already feel that this season carried a greater sense of promise than the previous two.
“Coach Magaro has really good soccer knowledge, and I think this year will be very different from past experiences,” Southington winger Liam Schroeder said after generating two scoring chances on Thursday. “We’re playing a new formation that we’re getting used to, and it’s working well. We’re linking passes, like six passes in a row and switching fields, and we’re noticing that from last year when we were just chasing the ball and kicking it. They taught us how to play the game of soccer, and we’re trying to master that.”
Magaro has seen Southington at a place of success before, graduating in 2007 after his team won 10 games and reached the state tournament. He has been a part of the coaching staff for the past eight seasons and sees the program’s potential. His team wasn’t able to pick up that first goal and that first step towards 2017 heights on Thursday, but after assessing his team’s performance in his head coaching debut, he can feel it coming.
“Looking at this schedule, we can be in every single game,” Magaro said. “We’re not afraid of any of these teams. We know what we’re capable of. We’ll be a team that people are second-guessing. We want to change that mentality.”