Two perrenial high school boys soccer powers haven’t only reloaded, they’ve added some firepower that make them both serious contenders in their respective divisions.
In Division I it’s Manchester Central, which returns talented midfielder Amar Dzelivic and has added Eddie Rodriguez at the position to give the Little Green a potent one-two punch.
And in Division II it’s Hollis-Brookline. The Cavaliers not only have scoring sensation Cole Owens back at striker, but they also have a talented exchange student from Spain named Guillen Pujadas in the midfield.
Central lost to Alvirne of Hudson in the semifinals last year after making four straight trips to the title game and winning three of them.
Dzelivic is in his third year on the team and Rodriguez returns after being academically ineligible last year. Little Green coach Chris LaBerge said the two compliment each other well, Rodriguez being the creative and risky one while Dzelivic is more disciplined and conservative.
LaBerge said Dzelivic is probably one of the top three players in the state.
“He’s a good decision maker, good on the ball and a playmaker,” LaBerge said. “He’s also been on the team for three years so he’s a good leader.”
Another player who could figure in on the offense is Jaime Martinez, a junior striker who played the regular season with the junior varsity squad and scored a goal in the only varsity game he started, the semifinal loss to the Broncos.
It also helps that Central returns all four of its starting fullbacks from a year ago; Evan MacDonald, Christian Ramsey, David Taluva and Christian Paradis.
Owens is the real deal. He netted 23 goals and 12 assists last year for the Cavaliers, who have lost to Windham in the finals two straight seasons.
This is the fourth year on the varsity squad for Owens, and Hollis-Brookline coach Rick Carvalho said he should pick up right where he left off.
“He’s looking good,” Carvalho said. “He’s big, fast, strong and a good finisher.”
Carvalho said Pujadas is a “creative player” with good skill on the ball and good vision.”
The duo will give the Cavaliers a tough matchup both up front and in the midfield the rest of Division II will have a hard time containing.
Both the Little Green and Cavaliers open the season with big tests on Friday. Hollis-Brookline will be at Windham for a championship rematch and Central will be at up-and-coming Bedford.
Central should be one of the favorites to regain its crown at the end of the season. Some of the other serious contenders are reigning champ Hanover, Pinkerton Academy of Derry, runner-up Alvirne, Exeter and Concord.
Parity is the best word to describe Division II. The general consensus is there are about 10 teams that could win it all, but until somebody proves otherwise, Windham is the squad to beat.
The Jaguars have a good group back including David Carbonello (19 goals, 13 assists), Jon Ferri and Alex Sexton, who will anchor the defense.
Oyster River of Durham and Lebanon are just a couple of the other serious contenders in Division II.
The team to beat in Division III is reigning champ Hopkinton. Runner-up Bow will be tough, as will Prospect Mountain of Alton and Somersworth.
Perennial power Gilford returns a good core at defense, but lost a lot of offense. Finding someone who can finish will be the main concern for coach Dave Pinkham and his crew.
The reigning champ in Division IV is Derryfield of Manchester, but the Cougars graduated eight seniors, seven of whom were starters.
They will lack experience but have some talent to make up for that. Derryfield is led by junior center back Matt Dubreuil, junior midfielder Joe Costa and junior striker Parker Blaisdell.
Other teams in Division IV to watch out for include Sunapee, Pittsfield and Wilton-Lyndeborough.