Lance Lysowski | Observer Reporter
For the second straight year, opponents are going to have a problem telling apart the Peters Township boys soccer team’s two strikers. Both wear lime green spikes, both use a quick first step to exploit defensive weaknesses, both can bend a soccer ball like a Frisbee and both have to be shadowed all over the pitch.
Oh, and they happen to look exactly alike.
Nicco and Mario Mastrangelo were thorns in the side of the Indians’ opponents last season, combining for more than 30 goals as juniors. The twins helped pace Peters Township’s offense during its WPIAL Class AAA championship run, which culminated in a 1-0 victory over Upper St. Clair – the eventual PIAA champion – at Highmark Stadium.
The only distinguishing trait between the two? Nicco is a lefty and Mario is a righty. Few recognize the difference, except for the opposing goalkeeper and by then, it’s usually too late.
With eight starters returning and the Mastrangelo brothers up front, the Indians have their sights set on more than a repeat. It all begins tomorrow when the Indians host Sewickley Academy at home (3:15 p.m.)
“I’d love to do it again this year, but we want to go to states this year.” Mario Mastrangelo said. “Our attack is pretty strong and our midfield is pretty strong. It’s going to be interesting.”
Two teams will have a lot to say about Peters Township’s hopes of repeating as WPIAL champs for the first time in program history. Canon-McMillan, which finished third in Section 5-AAA, will return its leading scorer, senior striker Josh Kruczek.
Upper St. Clair is replacing head coach Uwe Schneider, who will miss the season after a tragic accident at his home that almost cost him his leg, and the Panthers graduated two Division I recruits, forward Joel Hart and midfielder Troye Kiernan.
Regardless of the competition, Peters Township believes its depth and offensive talent will make the difference.
“Having two or three people up front you can rely on really helps, especially with the formation we play,” senior Dylan Weyers said. “We need a really good offensive attack and we have to be connected.”
Though the Indians return the majority of their nucleus, the losses are noteworthy. Goalkeeper Max O’Hare did not allow a goal in four WPIAL playoff games, defender Max Lindsay had an impeccable postseason performance and midfielder Troy Eskew helped facilitate Peters Township’s offense.
The questions are eased by a deep senior class. Rylen Faloni starts at attacking midfielder, while Weyers and Ryan Ponchoine are critical contributors at center back. The experience and speed up the middle is a perfect match for Peters Township head coach Bob Dyer’s system, which requires a relentless style of play.
“If I said that it doesn’t help having Nicco and Mario, a lot of coaches would be upset with that answer,” Dyer joked. “It absolutely helps. It also helps having (Ponchione) behind them with (Faloni) and (Weyers) behind him. We are very deep.”
The one position battle that will likely occur throughout the regular season is in goal. Senior Josh Deyarmin split time with O’Hare during the regular season, and sophomore Justin Gamble and junior Philip Davis are pushing to take the spot in net.
The sight at Peters Township’s practice Wednesday evening reflected the focal point of the Indians’ postseason run last season. After PT lost to Upper St. Clair, 6-1, in which the Panthers scored five goals on set pieces, Dyer spent the last six weeks of the season stressing the importance of the play in soccer.
It paid dividends during the playoffs and the Indians are back to perfecting the critical plays that can shift the momentum of a match.
“In the game of soccer, to a certain degree, athleticism has helped defenses and pushed defenses so far that you have to score on set pieces,” Dyer said. “You have to defend those really well or else you aren’t going to win.”
Despite Upper St. Clair losing Hart and Kiernan, – Dyer called the latter the best high school player he’s seen in a long time – Peters Township is aware that the Panthers are the favorite to take home the WPIAL and PIAA titles. The Indians won’t have much time to prove their ability to repeat as they face Canon-McMillan Sept. 4 and Upper St. Clair Sept. 18.
“(Upper St. Clair) were the big dogs last year,” Faloni said. “It’s a new year. We haven’t proven anything yet. It’s the start of the season and we have work to do, but we’re excited.”
With leadership backed by a fast-paced style of soccer, opponents will have more to worry about than which Mastrangelo brother is closing in on net.