Dominant defense fueling stellar start for Niskayuna boys’ soccer

Shaker's Colin Brant and Niskayuna's Jacob Nuqui go after the ball during a boys' soccer game on Saturday at Niskayuna High School. (Peter R. Barber/Staff Photographer)

Shaker's Colin Brant and Niskayuna's Jacob Nuqui go after the ball during a boys' soccer game on Saturday at Niskayuna High School. (Peter R. Barber/Staff Photographer)

NISKAYUNA — The goal the Niskayuna boys’ soccer team’s defense has set for itself is . . . ambitious, to say the least.

“We’re going for the record,” junior Ian Klenk said. “Hopefully, no goals all season.”

So far, so good.

Through four games this season, Niskayuna has yet to surrender a goal, boasting an 18-0 goal differential in wins over Troy, Guilderland, Averill Park and Shaker.

The stingiest defense in Section II boys’ soccer history belongs to the 2015 Mekeel Christian Academy squad, which allowed just three goals in a 17-game season. Niskayuna’s program record for fewest goals allowed is eight, established in 2018 when the Silver Warriors finished as Section II Class AA runners-up to Christian Brothers Academy.

It’s that CBA team which will pose the first major threat to Niskayuna’s run of clean sheets when the two teams meet Thursday in Niskayuna.

“This is just the most phenomenal start we could’ve asked for,” junior forward Mike Puccioni said. “A clean sheet for four games in a row is more than we could’ve expected.”

With 18 goals in four games, Niskayuna’s offense has been clinical thus far, with Puccioni and playmaking midfielders Matt and Andrew Stiles leading the charge.

The defense, however, has been nothing short of dominant — and it hasn’t mattered who coach Terrence Sloan has put back there.

In Saturday’s 2-0 win over Shaker, Niskayuna was missing one of its most valuable defensive pieces as senior Toby Goldner sat out while nursing a quad injury. The Silver Warriors still put the clamps on Shaker’s offense, with the likes of Klenk and fellow junior Jacob Nuqui successfully shutting down the Blue Bison’s attack.

“We always try to have really good defensive shape, and we have some very talented center backs,” Puccioni said. “One of our starters was actually hurt [today], but you can see our bench is really deep and can fill a lot of different positions.”

Saturday against Shaker, Niskayuna took a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute and spent the rest of the match seeing out the victory with defensive dominance.

Without Goldner in the lineup, Sloan got creative in changing the team’s defensive formation in the closing minutes, dropping Andrew Stiles from midfield to fullback in a five-man defensive set that stopped Shaker from finding a late equalizer — and opened up room for Puccioni to score the game-sealing goal on a late counterattack.

“The key ingredient is everyone’s versatility,” Puccioni said. “We’re really versatile, everyone plays quickly. We don’t mess around in the back, we don’t dribble it. If there’s pressure on, we try to get it out as fast as possible.”

“With a full squad back there,” Sloan said, “we’re very solid.”

If an opponent does manage to breach Niskayuna’s defensive web, the team has been able to count on a stellar last line of defense in junior goalkeeper Papa Ndiaye.

With the Silver Warriors dominating the run of play so far, Ndiaye hasn’t been called upon too many times yet to save the day, but he’s responded when needed.

Against Shaker, the Blue Bison’s best chance to tie the game came on a swerving free kick from Daniel Mattox midway through the second half, but a diving stop from Ndiaye preserved the scoreless streak.

“Papa’s been a blessing this year,” Sloan said. “We have a history here at Niskayuna of having excellent goalkeeping, and Papa’s going to continue that tradition for the next two years.”

Through four games, Niskayuna’s defense is unblemished. With eight regular-season games to go in this shortened campaign, how long can that streak last?

“Hopefully, the whole season,” Klenk said. “We’ll see what happens, though.”

Categories: High School Sports, Sports

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