BEACON FALLS — Thirty-six of the Woodland boys soccer team’s 88 goals last season came from the cleats of Eric Dietz.
But the All-New England selection is gone, so longtime coach Tony Moutinho needs to find someone — or someones — to replace that production.
“I think I’m going to need 36 players,” Moutinho joked. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Dietz isn’t the only key player gone from last year’s team, which won the program’s first-ever Naugatuck Valley League title after going 15-0-1 in the regular season.
Matt Moutinho, Mike Segala and Lumbardh Pacuku, who scored a combined 27 goals, are also gone from the Hawks’ attack, while Adam Baz left Woodland’s outstanding defense.
Baz may have been even more valuable to last year’s squad than Dietz because of his ability to anchor the entire team from the back row.
“Adam is going to be the hardest player to replace,” Moutinho said. “Adam had speed and communicated the best of anyone on the field. He’s probably the hardest player to lose.”
While the defense takes a hit, Moutinho thinks some of the returning forwards and midfielders can help replenish the offense.
Vigan Pacuku and Nick LaPerriere should be among the team’s top goal-scorers. Both players scored nine goals last season, but LaPerriere missed several games with an injury.
“Hopefully they score some goals for us,” Moutinho said. “Vigan is a playmaker so he can create his own shot. Nick is similar to Dietz because he has a lot of speed to break away with his shot.”
Sam Merriman and Steve Pec are expected to fill in the midfield gaps. Merriman, the younger brother of former All-NVL midfielder John Merriman, could enjoy a breakout season as a sophomore.
“He’s going to be a big player,” Moutinho said. “He really knows the game well. He’s not that fast or flashy but he has the complete package of a soccer player. He dribbles well and has a decent shot. Eventually he’ll be one of our top players.”
Pat Dietz will be the only Hawk between the pipes this season after the team utilized a two-goalkeeper system over the last few seasons. Dietz’s other half, Marc Beaulieu, graduated.
“It’s Pat and Pat only,” Moutinho said. “Hopefully he doesn’t get hurt. I don’t even have a varsity-caliber backup right now.”
With the losses on both offense and defense, Moutinho said he’s tempered the team’s expectations for this season. After two Brass Division titles in a row and last year’s top seed in the Class M state tournament, the Hawks would be happy with reaching another postseason tourney.
“I’ve brought [our goals] down a little bit,” Moutinho said. “I just want to make the states this year. I think it would be unrealistic to say we can repeat last season. But we’re working hard and hopefully we’ll jell.”
Woodland starts the season Tuesday at Ansonia before hosting Sacred Heart on Friday.