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BEST OF THE BUNCH: On the pitch, silver linings and four-man battle

BEST OF THE BUNCH: On the pitch, silver linings and four-man battle

MERIDEN — It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Unless you’re getting up on Sunday mornings to watch Bundesliga matches beamed out from spectator-free stadiums in Germany, we’ve gone a long stretch without live soccer.

In Connecticut high school ranks, it’s been since the Senior Bowl, the annual all-star game that plays after the completion of the state tournament.

It features All-State seniors. We had four from our area in the fall of 2019 and all four are the finalists for Record-Journal Boys Soccer Player of the Year, one of the most competitive award categories in this edition of “Best of the Bunch.”

Who d’ya like? Zechariah Smith and Giovanny Solis out of Meriden? Cheshire’s Jack Loura? Wallingford’s Tyler Jasinski?

The quartet brought a silver lining to a 2019 season that ended far too soon. A year after Maloney reached the 2018 Class L final, no local team advanced beyond the second round of the state tournament.

We did have some fireworks on offense. Three of our four finalists led their teams in scoring.

The one exception was Jasinski, and that’s because he was a center-defenseman.

A cornerstone throughout his Sheehan career, Jasinski led the Titans to a 9-6-2 season as a senior. He was named All-SCC for a second straight year — this time All-SCC First Team — and he returned to the All-Record-Journal Team.

The crowning touch: All-State Class M recognition.

Though a defender, Jasinski would be brought up to the midfield if Sheehan needed to push the attack. He knew how to find the net. Jasinksi finished his career with 11 goals.

Goal-scoring, meanwhile, was the forte of his fellow finalists. In Cheshire, Jack Loura scored a team-high 12 goals and assisted on five as the Rams matched Wilcox Tech for the area’s best record at 11-6-1.

Cheshire was solid, far better than that 11-6-1 might indicate. Led by Loura, the Rams scored 40 goals and allowed just 11. For a good deal of the season, they were ranked in the Class LL/L state coaches poll.

Their loss in the second round of the Class LL tournament was certainly without shame. It was to Hall, the eventual champ and the state’s overall No. 1-ranked team.

Loura landed a load of accolades. He was All-State Class LL and All-SCC First-Team. He was back on the All-RJ team for a second season.

Another fine feather: The Greater New Haven Soccer Officials Association voted Loura their Male Player of the Year.

In Meriden, meanwhile, Giovanny Solis and Zechariah Smith compiled All-RJ and All-State Class L seasons — Solis at Wilcox Tech, Smith at Maloney.

Solis followed in the footsteps of Wilcox teammate Kelvin Cortez, who was All-State in 2018. Solis also followed Cortez as the Tribe’s leading scorer. He delivered 15 goals and eight assists in his senior season.

On the East Side, Smith paced the Spartans with 13 goals. It was a remarkable tally for a player who almost always drew double teams and then a crowd of defenders when the ball was on his foot.

“He is one of the few high school players that you have to know where he is at all times on the field,” said David Parness, his coach at Maloney. “Zech has that ability to tap into that ‘next gear’ that not many players can.”

Smith even found that gear in the Senior Bowl. He was the game MVP.

The Record-Journal Boys Soccer Player of the Year will be announced on Thursday, June 18 during the airing of the “Best of the Bunch” awards video on Facebook at 6:30 p.m. The video will also be available on after that initial airing. Finalists in the various awards categories will be unveiled now through June 18. Up next: Girls Soccer