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Howell pins hopes on experience this boys’ soccer season

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Being a year older may result in more victories this season for the boys’ soccer team at Howell High School.

Rich Yuro, who has started his 26th season at Howell, believes his veteran team will have a bounce back year this autumn.

Yuro predicts that last year’s experience will be a great learning tool as Howell seeks to improve on a 7-12 record in 2016.

“We want to be better than last year,” Yuro said. “We have the same team from last year, just a year older. We played really well toward the end of the year last year, so the hope is that momentum continues into this season.”

Yuro revealed that the turnaround might not be that easy.

“The problem is that we play in a very tough league,” Yuro said. “There’s a lot of great teams, so even when you make improvements, it’s tough. So, because of that, the focus is just to see improvement each and every game. Just like in all sports, we’re going to need some breaks along the way as well to be successful.”

Yuro believes that his team’s defense will help when the Rebels compete in the challenging Shore Conference A North Division.

“Our defense is pretty solid,” Yuro said. “We can hang with just about anyone with our defense. We take real pride in that over here.”

The coach has some concerns about his offense.

“Goal production was a real problem last year,” Yuro said. “We usually played really well and stayed with a lot of teams but just couldn’t put it in the net. They score a goal, and it would be over. We would lose 1-0 or 2-1. We want to change that this year.”

The Rebels started their season by playing solid defense but being unable to generate a goal in a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) on Sept. 5 at Howell.

The defense held CBA scoreless until midway through the second half when the Colts finally broke through. Then CBA iced the victory with a late goal.

Howell senior forward Brandon Downey believes the result will eventually help the team.

“We really showed that we had heart,” he said. “We played really well off the ball. We have to be on tackles better, and we have to be more fit. It really showed toward the end of the game.”

Senior defender Steve Marrone also thought that CBA was more a of a bad matchup instead of a superior opponent.

“Playing a team like CBA where they knock the ball around so much isn’t something you typically see in A North,” Marrone said. “So, hopefully, our style of play will benefit us more when we play other teams like the Freehold Townships who like to play our style.”

Regardless of whether it was a matchup nightmare, the players believed that there were still areas of improvement the team needs to have if it plans on winning big this year.

“We definitely need to work on our counterattacks,” Downey said. “I feel like we would get it to the midfield, and we’d lose the ball. So once we get those through, me and [junior forward] Dylan Dougher up top, we’re going to start putting them in, and we’re going to get results.”

“We need to do better at just simply holding onto the ball,” Marrone said. “You can’t do anything unless you have the ball at your feet. So as long as we can hold onto the ball, we can start to create something up top.”

Yuro will also look to junior midfielder Robert Saunders for offense this year.

The Rebels had a goal on the board in their next game at Freehold Township High School on Sept. 7, but it was the result of an own goal by the Patriots, who picked up a 3-1 victory. Senior goalkeeper Shane McBride made 12 saves in the loss.

Despite these early defeats, Howell’s veteran players are determined to end their careers in style.

“Honestly, in our four years, we’ve never made it to the Shore Conference or state [tournaments],” Downey said. “We want to make at least one of them. That’s what we hope to do every year, so that’s what we’re shooting for. You got to make something count. You got to make a change at some point, so why not this year?”

“We’re trying to go out with a bang this year,” Marrone said. “We’ve been on varsity for four years, so we’re trying to make this year a good one. We’ve got the talent on paper, but it takes it mentally. As the season progresses, hopefully we can swing that and make it work in our favor.”

Howell was scheduled to host Manalapan High School on Sept. 12 and will travel to Marlboro High School two days later to face the Mustangs in a 4 p.m. matchup.

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