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Concord boys’ soccer team poised to return to prominence

After reaching the semifinals five times in eight years, the Concord High boys’ soccer team took a step back last season. Actually, the Crimson Tide took a leap back, and a big leap at that, finishing 2-13-1 and out of the Division I playoffs altogether.

“We’ve talked about (last season) once in a while, and the players bring it up themselves, but we’re really focused on going forward and what we can be,” Concord Coach Scott Dunlop said.

With three top players returning from Seacoast United, a couple of talented freshman, and last year’s experience serving as a growth opportunity for the rest of the team, what the Crimson Tide can be, once again, is a contender.

“The expectations are pretty high,” Dunlop said. “I think we can be a tough team day in and day out. We can play with high pressure, show some skill and talent, and pressure other teams to play their best against us.”

Last fall, when U.S. Soccer required players to choose between playing for their high school or its Development Academy programs (like Seacoast United), it affected many teams in New Hampshire, but maybe none more than Concord, which lost four players to the new rule – Kyler Thayer, Jordan Misiri, Dan Vignati and Augustine Fornor. The rule is still in place, but Vignati, Thayer and Fornor, all seniors, decided to come back to the Crimson Tide for one more season.

“I liked playing for Seacoast, but I chose to come back to Concord because I think we have the potential to be really good this year, and I definitely wanted to be a part of that,” Vignati said.

Vignati added that he did miss playing with his schoolmates last season, and while he and the other Concord-based Seacoast players talked about returning to the Crimson Tide this year, “we all made our own decision as far as that goes, but we all definitely saw the potential with this team.”

Fornor and Vignati will be part of a completely revamped back line, along with junior Gaston Arocena and freshman Emmanuel Smith, who Dunlop described as “a very skillful, very talented player.”

“The back line has size, technique and a ball-winning mentality,” Dunlop said.

They’ll be playing in front of junior keeper Andrew Grondin, who took over as the starting goalie at the end of last season and benefited from that experience. He’s shown marked improvement during the preseason and has taken confident control of the back line.

Thayer started at right back for Concord as a sophomore, but he’ll be playing in the central midfield this year next to junior Matt Chartier. Those two are the team captains, so they’ll be in the middle of things both off and on the field.

“We’re going to have those two play together and be our schemers, our playmakers,” Dunlop said. “Those are the guys we’re going to run things through.”

And no matter what the Tide is trying to run, it will try to do it fast.

“We’ve been working on playing quick, and I think that will be our strength,” Chartier said.

Senior Isaac Dugas, junior Danny Nkhalamba and sophomore Trevor Devanny are all vying for the two outside midfield starting spots. All three will see plenty of time there, with senior Ben Picard and junior Nick Dupree playing prominent backup roles.

Junior Dominique Girard, who played defense last year due to injuries and inexperience, has moved up top to forward, a more natural position for him. He’ll be joined there by freshman Chris Pinkham, the grandson of George Pinkham, the former Concord High soccer coach who has been leading the Bow boys’ soccer team since 1997.

“Both (Girard and Pinkham) are very creative and hardworking forwards,” Dunlop said. “We want them to play that high-pressure style and be relentless on the backs.”

The Tide’s senior class gives Concord mature depth all over the field. Liam Richards is the backup goalie, Matt Bodwell and Alex Judge will fill in on defense, Josh Owen will play a backup role in the midfield, and Mohamed Mohamed and Brad Wheeler can come off the bench to spell the forwards.

Concord’s revamped team will open its season today at Spaulding and get its first big test on Tuesday when Exeter, a perennially strong program, visits Memorial Field.

“Most games will be challenging,” Dunlop said, “but we’re definitely a different side from last year.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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