CLIFTON PARK -– Oct. 10 couldn’t come soon enough for the Shenendehowa boys’ soccer team.
The majority of Suburban Council teams already had two games under their belts, but the Plainsmen had to wait until Saturday for their first contest, delayed by a COVID-19 exposure to more than 20 of their players on the varsity roster from a final club soccer practice with NY Elite FC.
The bulk of the roster completed its required number of preseason practices and returned Saturday, delivering a 2-0 season-opening win over Columbia.
“The wait made it a bit more difficult because normally we’re used to getting a scrimmage or two in and kind of get a sense of where we’re at,” Shenendehowa coach Jon Bain said. “I had really had no clue where we were at.”
The 2019 Section II Class AA champion Plainsmen (1-0) delivered a stalwart defensive front that bent during the first half, but held strong in the second half against the Blue Devils’ offensive waves.
Senior midfielder Darien Espinal opened the season with a scoring chip into the top left corner with 22 seconds left in the first half to give the Plainsmen the lead off an assist by junior forward Emir Cekic.
Cekic tallied his first goal of the year with 20 minutes remaining in the contest, courtesy of a cross from Espinal.
Shenendehowa goalie Noah Flint made the shutout stand, turning back 10 shots from Columbia (0-3) on the day.
“We had Jaylin Sykes for the last three years, and that had been my forward,” Bain said. “The big question mark we had this year is who is going to be that forward.”
Bain looked to Espinal and Cekic for that answer, and they delivered.
“Emir got some valuable minutes for us last year as a sophomore, and now he’s refining his game as a junior,” Bain said. “Darien was a key player all of last year in our run, so now he’s taking more of a leadership role as a senior.”
Espinal embraced his role as a senior leader.
“Playing with Jaylin, it was special,” Espinal said. “It was different. We could give it up to Jaylin, [and] he’d make his run.
“Now this year, I think we’re going to be focused more on the midfield, through the wings and I think we’re going to get more touches through the middle this year.”
For the first time this year, Bain and his coaching staff have game film to digest before Tuesday’s home contest versus Colonie under the lights at 6:30 p.m. at the Shen varsity soccer field.
“My whole sense of timing is off, normally this would be August or early September,” Bain said. “Now we’re well into October already and we’re trying to figure out where we’re at.
“It’s a little bit different, but hopefully we’ll get that sorted out in the next two weeks.”
Halftime score: Shenendehowa 1, Columbia 0. Shenendehowa scoring: Espinal 1-1, Cekic 1-1. Columbia scoring: None. Goalies: Columbia, McLaughlin, 9 saves. Shenendehowa, Flint, 10 saves.