Portland senior Cole Bates controls the ball in a game against E.O. Smith on Oct. 4. Bates and Andrew Johnson are the captains for the Highlanders, who are in their first season under head coach John Discenza.
After coaching at the middle school for three years prior to the pandemic, John Discenza is thrilled to be back coaching soccer in Portland as the head coach of the boys’ program at Portland High School.
Discenza described his return to Portland as “excellent” and added “it’s been a dream.”
After a slow start to the season, the Highlanders are starting to find their groove, ending last week with shutout victories over Westbrook and Valley Regional
Even in defeat, Discenza has liked what he’s seen out of the team.
In an Oct. 4 loss to E.O. Smith, a Class L school from the Central Connecticut Conference, the Class S Highlanders played to halftime draw before surrendering three goals over the final 40 minutes on a rain-soaked field at Portland High School.
“I thought at times we outplayed them and went toe-to-toe with them,” said Discenza, who replaced Michael Searson in the offseason. “We had a few miscommunications with the goalie and our defense, which cost us two goals, but other than that I couldn't be more proud.”
Senior captains Cole Bates and Andrew Johnson are helping carry out Discenza’s vision on the field.
Discenza, who previously coached at Portland Middle School, said that his senior leaders have been invaluable as he implements his stamp on the program.
“They have been phenomenal,” Discenza said of his captains. “I couldn't ask for better leaders and they give everything they have on the field.”
Bates and Johnson are two of the team’s four seniors, joining Brandon McPhee and Ryan Clarke.
Johnson said there is a family-feel on and off the field, adding, “Now I’m the bigger brother that has to look after my teammates. They are family members to me; we build our team around that.”
Joining the four seniors are a talented group of younger players that feature junior starters Alexander Dawson, Benjamin McGrew, Giovanni Discenza, Benjamin Sorrell, Cooper Beck, along with sophomore starters Parker Thompson and Raymond Lin.
“The younger guys bring in a new perspective,” said Bates, “They bring a new energy.”
Bates added that the seniors learned the ropes from an influential senior class a season ago and went to work in the summer league, helping prepare the younger players and get ready for the coaching change.
The time spent together is beginning to pay dividends. After struggling to put the ball in the back of the net over the first six games—scoring only seven goals— they matched that season's scoring output in the Shoreline Conference (SLC) wins over Westbrook and Valley Regional last week.
In a 4-0 win over Westbrook on Oct. 6, Bates netted a pair of goals. Thompson and junior Kadir Hamidovic also found the back of the net. Two days later, they blanked Valley Regional 3-0.
Discenza said that the team always had the right mindset and now it appears the team is starting to play to their full potential.
“I love the attitude, the hustles, the way they come out to play. They never give up,” said Discenza. “They are a scrappy team; they give you all that they got. The way they play the game gets me really fired up.”
Defense has been a key for the Highlanders, who have shut out four opponents this season.
Protecting the backend is goalie Erik Medvecky, a first-year starter.
Discenza said he wasn’t exactly sure what to expect out of Medvecky, but he has been pleasantly surprised, crediting the junior net minder with picking up the positions quickly and for his powerful leg.
“He has been an anchor back there,” added Discenza. “He is still learning the position, but he’s coming along very well. Every game you can see the improvements.
The Highlanders next visit Cromwell this Saturday, Oct. 15 for a primetime game against the SLC rival Panthers, starting at 6 p.m.
They return home for their annual grudge match with East Hampton under the lights at PHS, starting at 7 p.m.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin