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For the first time in a couple of years the Fountain Hills High School boys soccer team is sporting a larger roster of seasoned players and head coach Matt Pugliano thinks this group of experienced athletes has the potential to be something special.

The Falcons’ season opener will be on Thursday, Dec. 5, at Fountain Hills High School. FHHS will face off against American Leadership Academy Gilbert starting at 6 p.m.

Pugliano said he believes that there are upsides and one downside to the makeup of the team this year.

“We’ve got what would be considered an older team this season,” Pugliano explained. “We did graduate only one senior last season, and it’s been tough to fill his leadership shoes, but the boys are making strides. As of right now, we have only a handful of underclassmen plugged into the lineup, which makes us a heavily experienced team.

“The great thing about that is that almost all of the seniors and juniors have been starting/playing significant minutes since their freshman year.”

It’s a deep roster, which is why Pugliano said he is keeping his goals consistent with previous seasons.

“As always, our goals are to win the region, make the playoffs, and win our last game,” Pugliano said. “I think we really have a special team this season and it'd be nice to accomplish all three of those goals.”

One big change this season that is sure to make a difference on the pitch for FHHS is senior captain Caden Collins. He was injured for the first half of last season, so he’ll be aiming to make up for lost time moving ahead.

“He brings a big boost of energy and experience to the starting lineup,” Pugliano said. “We were 1-4 without him and 5-2 with him last season.”

Pugliano said that along with Collins, fans should keep an eye on all the seniors this season.

“Ryan Griggs and Ethan Wilson are big keys to our attack while Trevor Sandvig, Will Eggert and Kai Duda are anchoring our defense,” Pugliano said.

One aspect of the game that the team has been working on this pre-season is moving the ball around the field.

“A lot of players who don’t play club or a lot outside of the season have a tendency to hold onto the ball,” Pugliano said. “So we’re breaking those habits and taking advantage of the great team speed we have this year.”

Pugliano said he is looking forward to the upcoming games against Northwest Christian and Scottsdale Prep, but he’s most excited to see how the season progresses.

“For me personally, I’m excited to see how this year shakes out overall,” Pugliano explained. “This being my fifth season, the seniors are truly the first group I’ve had since they were freshmen. It’ll be a kind of referendum on my leadership and ability to teach/coach the game.

“For the team, I think it will be a truly special year. We have an excellent shot at not only winning the region, but making a deep run in the playoffs. However, we aren’t there yet and we’ve got a lot of things to work out. The boys are ready and champing at the bit to get going next week.”