A portrait of Joey Cain demands a variety of brush strokes, along with myriad layers and textures. Just don’t try this at home with a paint-by-numbers kit.
Five goals and an equal handful of assists may lack the wow factor a stats guy craves, but it’s his artistry on the pitch that has made the Salesianum School senior this year’s model, this year’s “it’ guy, Delaware’s high school soccer player of the year as selected by the Delaware High School Soccer Coaches Association.
And, just to be transparent, the 5-foot-6 Cain does carry around a subtle set of numbers that are less gauche but more significant. Numbers such as the No. 2 final national ranking for the 17-0-1 Sals and a sub-4.5-second time in the 40 that sets up his entire game. Then there’s four, the number of state titles the school has won during his stay, and more specifically to this season, the number of goals the Sals yielded.
“I think a big part of the game is not getting scored on,” said Cain, who will continue to play right back when he attends the University of Rhode Island next year. “Me playing defense, that’s always been like my No. 1 goal, not letting people score on us.”
It’s not that Cain can’t score. After all, his coach, Scott Mosier, did move him to forward late in the season when he felt Cain, with his speed, could exploit spaces in several teams’ schemes. He scored his final high school goal in a semifinal of the state tournament against Caesar Rodney.
“It’s hard to stand out at Sallies when they have so many talented players, but he stands out,” said CR coach Darrell Gravatt, calling Cain the “engine of their team.”
Mosier says that what is most noticeable about Cain – more than his intelligence, his discipline, his skill set – is his speed. “He’s just a half-step faster than everybody else on the field.” The combination of speed, quickness, balance, change of direction and acceleration might be the finest he’s ever coached at the school, or at least since All-American Steve Cavalier more than a decade ago.
“From zero to full speed, he gets there quicker than anyone,” Mosier said. “Defensively, he can get close to you and defend you and never guess. He just waits for you to do something and then he just goes and gets it. He’s just quicker than the other guy that first step.”
Cain’s speed allowed Salesianum’s transition game to explode forward. Mosier claims his ability to tirelessly defend then attack, then get back to defend again, allowed Cain to do the job of two players. And that freed Cain’s teammates to do what they do best.
In a snapshot, Cain’s worth may best be captured in Salesianum’s showdown this fall against St. Benedict’s, then ranked No. 1 nationally, in Newark, N.J. Goalie Ben Lundgaard’s booming punt set up Dylan Huber for the lone goal in the Sals’ 1-0 victory. It snapped St. Benedict’s 71-match unbeaten streak and was the first time this senior class had beaten them.
“It made us so much more confident,” Cain said. “Not cocky, but confident, like ‘we know what we can do now.’ It gave us so much more excitement going into the state tournament.”
Cain may have had the most important stat of that game: zero – the number of shots St. Benedict’s top player and a national team member was able to get off. Mosier switched Cain from right back to the left for that very purpose; Cain even pushed upfield to get three shots on goal himself.
“Joey, in his own fashion, really controlled a lot of that game by stopping that guy, because nobody in the country stopped that guy. Nobody else,” Mosier said. “Watching that one-on-one matchup is something that in high school, as a coach, it’s just nice to be there.”
As for player of the year, Cain feels a number of his teammates, players he’s been with for years in various programs, could have just as easily been given the award.
“Without them and being able to play with other good players,” he said, “you can’t perform as well.”