There is no exact prototype for the position. There are attacking midfielders, the dynamic scorers who frequently penetrate the defense. There are the facilitators who move the ball in transition and orchestrate the offense. There are the defensive midfielders, the ones who excel at pressuring the ball and getting stops.
Different styles, body types and attributes. What each has in common, though, is his paramount importance to a team.
“It doesn’t matter what level, all games are won up the middle,” Dover boys soccer coach Bob Esposito said. “You need strong play in the middle of the field. If you can’t control the middle, you can’t win.”
Several local coaches echoed that sentiment, almost verbatim. Here are some of the notable middlemen in the area.
Jake Kaufman, Spackenkill, senior
The double teams are sent and they often get physical, all in hopes of knocking Kaufman off his game. In every sense, he’s a marked man. But considering the Spartans are 12-1 this season, the strategies haven’t worked that well.
The defensive midfielder has thrived on both ends. His length at 5-foot-11, along with his speed and knowledge of schemes make him an anchor on the defensive side. Kaufman’s footwork and ability to move quickly with the ball, Spackenkill coach Manny Blanco said, is enough to “have defenders on their heels.”
Kaufman, who has 10 goals and 16 assists, also has become a vocal leader.
Dan Veliz, Roy C. Ketcham, senior
His name doesn’t too often end up in box scores, but his passes frequently reach the box. The center-midfielder isn’t a prolific scorer, but his role in the Indians’ offense is no less significant. It’s Feliz who initiates the offense, pushing the ball into the offensive zone to setup scoring chances. His footwork and savvy, assets on both ends, allow him to pressure the ball for turnovers, maintain possession and deliver good passes in transition.
Ketcham also benefits from having Mason Sanborn in the middle. The junior is having a breakout season and has emerged as a reliable scorer — two goals recently against John Jay — and a solid facilitator. Indians coach Scott Grimes lauded Sanborn’s tenacity and work ethic.
Tristan Battistoni, Arlington, junior
At a school as large as Arlington, on a team that has enjoyed recent success and on a roster so talented and deep, it says quite a bit that Battistoni was named a captain as a junior. The skill is undeniable. He’s technically sound, plays fast and is a smart passer. As well, Admirals coach Craig Sanborn said, the center-midfielder is “a combination of a lot of good qualities.” His maturity and composure make him a leader by example, and his demeanor has a calming influence on teammates.
Senior Eric Layden, an attacking mid with excellent footwork, teams with Battistoni to give opponents fits for the defending Section 1 Class AA champs.
Jamal Williams, Dover, senior
Williams doesn’t have great size or impressive top-end speed, but with the ball at his feet, it doesn’t matter. With his quickness, dexterity and an ability to anticipate movement and read body language, Williams often seems to be a step ahead anyway. A four-year member of the varsity team, his physical strength and field vision have improved each season, Esposito said.
Williams has six goals and 14 assists, teaming with Kenny Joseph to form a dynamic tandem for the Dragons (9-3).
“He’s good academically and brings the same focus and determination to the game,” Esposito said. “He’s the whole package, the kind of kid every coach wants.”
Brandon Gracias, Franklin D. Roosevelt, senior
The center-midfielder spent a portion of the last summer in Spain. But he wasn’t there to sightsee and tan, but to further meliorate what already had been a strength of his. Gracias trained with Granada CF, a Spanish-based youth soccer program, and there he improved his ball control and footwork. It was noticeable this fall, Presidents coach Dan Hoffay said, how well Gracias can maintain possession in close quarters. He has seven goals and five assists for Roosevelt (10-2), but his greater contribution is in moving the ball and serving as a “bridge” from the defense to the forwards.
Hoffay also praised his versatility, noting that Gracias often shifts from an attacking center-mid to defensive midfielder, depending on game situations, and has even played center back this season.
“He does all the little things well,” Hoffay said. “He has the ability to beat you with his feet, but he’s also very smart and likes to set things up. He’s got all the tools and is excellent at adjusting on the fly.”
Mike Ciardullo, John Jay, senior
Ciardullo’s dribbling skills and innate passing ability earned him a promotion to the varsity roster as a sophomore. But it’s his improvement defensively that helped garner him a spot on this list.
This season in particular, Patriots coach Rob Seipp said, Ciardullo has become more aggressive defensively and has shown a great willingness to attack the ball and force turnovers. The center-midfielder has three goals and five assists, but his overall contributions have been key for John Jay.
Rhinebeck’s Nakoa Zuger, Gage Stickle and Kevin Lyons
Forward Quinn Graziano is the headliner for this team, and for good reason. But it’s a trio of young middies that has Hawks coach Justin Wiesenthal excited about the future of this program. Zuger, a freshman, already has made a strong impression with his tenacity and rapid improvement. Stickle, a sophomore center-mid, has strong technical skills. Lyons, a junior, has good athleticism and has learned to use his 6-foot frame for leverage and in positioning himself to control loose balls.
“I think it’s the most important spot on the field,” Seipp said of midfield. “No matter how good your goalie is or your defense, if you can’t put up resistance in the midfield, you’re gonna have players running at your goal. On the offensive side, if your midfield can’t do much with the ball, it makes it hard to operate. Like a good quarterback, they need to put the ball exactly where it needs to be, and on time. That position, you’ve got a hand in everything.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4