BY THE BANNER SPORTS STAFF
For the fourth year running, the Bennington Banner sports department have scouted the area for the best-of-the-best in boys high school soccer.
Many players were able to stand out and makes a difference for their respective teams during the course of the season, but our process, ultimately, results in a handful of honorees.
Statistics are a vital part of a sports writer's repertoire, but they are not the only deciding factor in this list. Information from coaches, as well as observations from our own eyes help to determine which players make the cut for the Banner XI.
Based on that, we present the fourth annual Banner XI all-star squad:
Player of the Year
Drew Phillips, senior forward, Hoosick Falls What makes Phillips, and his season, remarkable is that the senior, who bagged 20 goals and had four assists this season, is probably playing out of position.
"He would be the first to tell you that he isn't a forward," Hoosick Falls coach Mike Young said. "But he is that good that he can play wherever and be effective. Without him, we don't have a successful season."
Phillips' impact was obvious in front of net. It seemed whenever a half-chance opened up for Phillips, he would turn it into a goal or an assist. But his ability on the field goes beyond simple numbers. In a tactically flexible team like Hoosick Falls, Phillips could play anywhere from forward to fullback if it meant the Panthers could win.
"I let some players have a say in the game plan, and sometimes he wanted to be at the wing ... usually scorers don't want to be on the outside," Young said. "He would point out defensive tendencies and help others get involved [in the offense]."
It was not unusual this season to see Phillips start high up the pitch on the left, only to migrate back into a holding midfield role once the Panthers took the lead, and sometimes falling back into the defense to help his team see out a W.
"We had success last year doing that with Cody Gaines and when we reached the Final Four, the kids bought into what we told them about being selfless," Young said. "Drew worked in the same way, he was willing to move around."
Phillips was also a captain on the team, and from dead ball situations Phillips would usually be the one to stand over the ball and deliver it to a teammate inside the opponent's penalty area.
"He is easily one of the top three players I've ever coached," Young said. "And to boot, he is an awesome kid off the field, too."
Marcus LaFlamme, Jr., forward, Mount Anthony -- When Marcus LaFlamme got going, the results were scary. LaFlamme netted hat tricks or better in four games this season, ending the year with 18 goals for the Patriots.
"He has a sense to get his shots off quickly," coach Mike Molloy said. "His speed is good, and he is excellent when he gets the ball and takes a touch and shoots, or just lets it go."
LaFlamme was at his best when the speedster could find space. When balls were played forward, LaFlamme had the innate ability to find the space in the defense and make his shots count.
And while all of these stats would be impressive for a senior, LaFlamme still has one year left to make an impact for MAU. With 28 goals in his career, reaching 50 is within the realm of possibility heading into next season.
Wes Lord, Soph., forward, Burr and Burton -- Lord surprised his BBA teammates this year when he stepped into the forward role for the Bulldogs and helped keep the team afloat while some major players were down with injuries.
The sophomore had five goals and six assists, and was also tasked with taking the team's corner kicks and a majority of the free kicks.
"He developed into a playmaker for us at forward," coach Peter Mull said. "He was the go-to guy for a lot of different things this year."
Lord also had the ability to come up in big spots. In the John James tournament alone, Lord converted a penalty kick in a win over Brattleboro, and his converted penalty in the final against MAU sent the Bulldogs home as James champions.
Brad Anair, Jr., midfield, MAU -- Anair not only affected games, he decided them. From his position in the midfield, Anair could either find the open man moving forward, or find the back of the net himself. His point total for the year was even, scoring eight goals and dishing out nine assists to lead the Patriots to a 10-5 record on the year, the team's first 10-win season in more than a decade.
"[His point total] is a great balance, and is a display of who he is," said coach Mike Molloy. "He has come into himself. He is a young junior. He definitely took the team on his shoulders."
Anair was also a devastating free kick taker, the man who took the Patriots' penalties, and a captain.
A mild-mannered player off the field, when Anair stepped between the lines he would go after every ball, no matter if it was on the ground or in the air. Throughout the season, Molloy praised Anair's willingness to go after balls in the air. His play even caught the attention of other coaches, as well.
"He is a rising star," said Burr and Burton coach Peter Mull. "He was great on set pieces, and was always a threat to score on free kicks or corners."
Max Haar, Jr., midfield, HFCS -- Haar "came into his own" this year, according to coach Mike Young, and the talismanic junior ended the season with 10 goals and 17 assists.
"We expected quite a bit from him, and he really gave us that steady, creative spark in the midfield," Young said.
Haar possessed the vision to pick out a pass to a teammate streaking down the wings, but Haar also had the ball control needed to bring the ball up himself and free up enough space for a shot.
Haar also excelled at slowing play down. When the Panthers would lose shape or fall under pressure, Haar was a release valve in the midfield, providing an outlet for his defenders to get the ball upfield.
With his teammate Drew Phillips drawing much attention throughout the season, Haar reminded teams that the Panthers were far from a one-man show. During games, Phillips and Haar would interchange positions constantly, and together the duo provided a one-two punch that teams were forced to account for.
Reid Conde, Jr., midfield, BBA -- Another game-changing midfielder, Conde proved time and again that, given the opportunity, he could turn a game on his head.
Most notably this season, Conde drew the penalty that gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 win in the James final, but Conde also came up in big spots for the Bulldogs in other games. Coach Peter Mull noted the team's two come-from-behind wins over Rutland, where Conde was "instrumental" in dragging the Bulldogs back into the contest. In both games, Conde scored, and the junior finished with seven goals and nine assists.
"He is a natural defender," Mull said. "He is the kind of guy you would play in the defensive midfield or at fullback, but we needed him to push up as much as possible to shore up our offense."
How influential was Conde this season? Mount Anthony coach Mike Molloy, who saw his side lose twice to the Bulldogs, said that "he is the one we try to scheme the most and try to track the most."
Ethan Anderson, Sr., midfield, MAU -- Not every midfielder in the Banner XI this year is a goal-scoring, chance-creating machine. Anderson is a master of the "dark arts" in the midfield: A strong tackler who had the ability to break up opponent's offensive attacks and push the ball the other way to let his teammates create chances.
"He does the [dirty] work," said coach Mike Molloy. "He loves to mix it up. He plays like a kid who is bigger and stronger than he is."
Anderson netted twice this year, but it was his contributions in other areas of play that earn him a spot.
"He played opposite Brad Anair this year," Molloy said. "Brad would control the play, and [Ethan] would do the dirty stuff for us."
One of Anderson's goals proved to be as vital as any other goal by MAU this season, as Anderson bagged the lone tally in the team's 1-0 win over Rutland -- the second of MAU's five straight wins to close out the regular season.
Andrew Gayda, Sr., midfield/forward, BBA -- Gayda missed a chunk of the season due to injury, but when the senior came back he picked up as if he had never left.
Gayda found the net 10 times in his senior year, and added four assists to help the Bulldogs to a 7-7-1 record, including the game-winner in a 1-0 win over MAU to start the season, and a brace to lead the team to a 4-3 come-from-behind win over Rutland.
"He had a real nice season," coach Peter Mull said. "Unfortunately, he didn't play in the James and a few games around then."
But when Gayda was on the pitch, his influence was obvious, making him a great choice for the Banner XI squad.
Luke Keenan, Sr., defense, MAU -- Keenan wasn't the biggest or fastest defender on the pitch.
But what Keenan lacked in measurables, he made up for ten-fold in gritty defending. On a game-by-game basis, Keenan would somehow find a way to track back and break up a threating play by the opposing team, even when it seemed like a forward had left him in the dust.
"Luke is just an all-around stud of a defender," said coach Mike Molloy. "He has one speed, and that is as fast as he needed to catch the guy in front of him."
While not a supremely vocal leader on the pitch, Keenan's talking came in the form of his work ethic.
"He just let his play do the talking," Molloy said. "He was the nucleus in the center of the defense."
Colin McLeish, Sr., defense, BBA -- After winning a Division II state title last season, the BBA defense was decimated by graduation.
But McLeish stepped up as a senior, helping to hold together a team that fought through injuries all season. While not the most noticeable player on the field, McLeish kept out of the spotlight because he refused to allow an opposing forward to grab attention.
"He helped us rebuild the back line," said BBA coach Peter Mull. "He came up really big for us. He is very smart, has good ball skills, and he played almost every minute of every game for us."
Peter Macksey, Sr., defense, Arlington -- A four-year starter, Macksey's experience was a major boon to a young Arlington team. 2013 was Macksey's first year as sweeper.
"He was a strong, solid, physical player all over the field," said Arlington coach Todd Wilkins. "He's a quiet kid that led with his play on the field."
Macksey, an all-Marble Valley League player, missed two games with injury -- against Black River and West Rutland -- contests that would have been different with the senior on the field, Wilkins said.
"The guys respected him by picking him as a captain early in the season," Wilkins said. "He showed that you have to work as hard as you can for 80 minutes, be physical and go after the ball."
Noah Chani, Jr., goaltender, HFCS -- In every high school soccer game, teams will have chances to put the ball into the back of the net.
But with Chani in goal, the Panthers had a brick wall instead of an open net. In 18 games, the Panthers allowed 15 goals. Chani was at the heart of that, who came up with the incredible on a game-by-game basis.
"He keeps us in every game," coach Mike Young said. "When we have to have those saves, he comes up really big for us with some amazing saves."
And while Chani organized the defense, Chani shined brightest when an opposing player found the space to get shots off. No matter the height or the angle, if he could get a hand on it, chances were the ball would be stopped before it could cross the goal line.
Already a reigning Class C keeper of the year, the junior still has another year to lead the Panthers, something that makes his coach extremely happy.
DJ Jennings, Sr., goaltender, Arlington -- Jennings was a massive physical presence in goal for the Eagles, using his 7-foot wingspan to make life difficult for shooters.
"We had him working on coming out to get loose balls for the past couple of years, he started doing it this year," said coach Todd Wilkins.
Jennings was an all-state player in Division IV and had more than 500 career saves in his three varsity seasons.
Robert Wojtkun, Sr., forward, Cambridge -- Wojtkun, who missed half the season with a dislocated knee, was a leader on and off the field. Scoring three goals, he was a constant presence throughout the pitch, being vocal when he needed to be.
"On all ends of the field, offense or defense, everything went through him," said Cambridge coach James Ingber.
Buster Baker-Porazinski, Sr., midfielder, Cambridge -- Baker-Porazinski was the best for the Indians in using his speed and finishing ability around the net, according to Cambridge coach James Ingber.
"He was good at beating defenders and played with intensity whenever he was on the field," Ingber said.
Patrick Cody, Jr., goaltender, Mount Anthony -- Cody scored seven shutouts as MAU won 10 games in 2013. He was chosen as the MVL first-team goalie allowing 15 goals in 15 games.
"I'm looking for him to be an all-state keeper next year," said MAU coach Mike Molloy. "He doesn't drop balls that are kicked at him, any shot at him he was going to handle."
Nate Mattison, Soph., defense, Arlington -- Mattison started every game at stopper for the Eagles, marking the best player on every team.
His best performance came against Twin Valley, when he marked up the Wildcats' Colin Lozito, holding him scoreless.
"He's physical, fast and strong and could match speed with any forward, and that frustrated a lot of teams," said coach Todd Wilkins. "He'll be extremely key for our defense next year."
Liam Kelleher, Sr., midfielder, Burr and Burton -- After being the Banner XI player of the year in 2012, Kelleher was hurt at the beginning of the season and missed a bunch of games. But when he was in the lineup, the Bulldogs, who went 7-7-1 after back-to-back state titles, were a different team.
"He's such a dominating player in the air, has great timing and controls anything in the air," BBA coach Peter Mull said. "When he got hurt, he turned into an assistant coach."
Jared Lacoste, Fr., forward, Arlington -- The Arlington front line had a sophomore and two freshmen in 2013, a very young group. But Lacoste played like a more experienced striker, leading the team in assists and second in goals behind Lucas Stroffoleno.
Jack Peterson, Soph., defense, MAU -- Peterson was voted as most improved player, jumping up to the varsity as a 10th grader.
"He was ready to contribute and he worked hard in the offseason," Molloy said. "He did some great stuff for us defensively, I know the other coaches recognized him as another player to watch."
Justin Gaines, Jr., defense, HFCS -- Experience is key for the older Gaines brother. He helped the Panthers hold the opposition to 15 goals in 18 games.
"He brought a lot of leadership and helped some of the younger and less experienced defenders play better than they would have [without him]," Young said.
Tyler Gaines, Soph., defense, HFCS -- Hoosick Falls coach Mike Young said the younger Gaines, a second-team Wasaren League all-star, could be the Panthers' best defender.
"He has size, speed and tremendous amounts of skill," Young said. "He was a starting back as a freshman on a Final Four team last year, we expected quite a bit from him."