Often times, a team transitioning to a new coach will need an adjustment period in order to figure out how things will work with a man at the helm. But in the case of White Plains, there is a sense of familiarity with first-year varsity coach Jack Gigli that has resulted in smooth sailing.
Gigli takes over for Marcel Galligani after 13 seasons as the JV coach, and he’s also coached a handful of club teams in the area. He’s known most of the players on the team since elementary school.
“I’ve been working closely with these kids – specifically my captains – since they were seven years old,” Gigli said on Thursday. “This was my team. Now, it makes it a little easier because I know the kids. I know who can step up and help the program, and it’s been a big help working with Marcel.”
When Gigli wasn’t coaching the JV team, he was often on the sidelines for varsity games to assist Galligani. And when Galligani announced that last year would be his final season, the decision was quickly made to hand the reins over to Gigli.
“The transition has gone very nicely,” Gigli said. “I knew since last year that it was Marcel’s last year, so we started making changes. The kids adapted very well. They knew what was going on. Of course, we’re going to miss Marcel. He was our leader for all of those years, but we’re ready to go.”
Gigli’s close relationship with his players was obvious on Thursday. Senior Osvaldo Almiron said that Gigli is “like my dad,” and everyone seemed very comfortable with the way that he’s been running practices.
“Coach Jack and coach Galligani have been working together for a long time,” senior Leo Fisher said. “Many of the kids know coach Jack from coming up from JV, as well as playing for anyone of his club teams. It’s not a huge change because we already know him so well. It definitely helps to know his playing style.”
• In terms of playing style, Gigli stressed that he doesn’t want to pigeonhole himself into a certain philosophy or formation. Depending on the situation, he wants his team to be able to adapt. The one thing that he preached was aggressiveness when it comes to creating opportunities. “My idea of playing soccer – I played professionally in Germany and in Italy – and I try to bring to this program what I learned from there,” he said. “I’m an offensive guy. I like to play offensive, but I think system is just numbers. I’m not the kind of guy who is going to start the game with a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. If I need to make the change right there and then, I will do that. With Marcel, we did a couple of times, but it was more that he believed in his system and he made the kids aware of it. That’s what he wanted to work on, but if it’s not going to work, I’m going to change the system. The training has been different, the program has been different, but the kids are enjoying it.”
• The Tigers return five starters, mostly from the back and front ends of the field. None were more valuable last season than Fisher, who emerged as one of the top defenders in the section. He’s a versatile player who will lead the team from the center back position. “Leo, when he started to play for me when he was seven years old, he really didn’t like soccer,” Gigli recalled. “He was a baseball kid. His father dragged him to the field day-after-day for the first couple years. We really had a hard time adjusting him, but then he became adapted to the game. The pleasure of coaching Leo is that he’s a very quick learner, he’s coachable – very coachable kid – and I expect him to be the leader, like he has been. We just came back from Italy, where we lost in a tournament to Ghana. There was a lot of crying in the locker room, and Leo stepped up and spoke.”
• White Plains’ other starting center back from last season, Thashan Coapland, also returns, which provides stability on defense. They also return a few strikers with varsity experience, led by Almiron. But he was quick to point out that this will be a well-balanced attack. “Not just me,” Almiron said. “We have Danny (Guerra), Ozzy (Escobedo) and we also have new guys like Fransisco (Villacosta) and Lucas (Garcete). We have a lot.”
• A young player whose named came up repeatedly is sophomore striker Jackson Sincerbeaux, who attracted some attention from academy teams. He’s stuck with the Tigers and is expected to contribute on varsity right away. “He’s a great kid,” Gigli said. “I’ve been watching him since he was 12 years old. He has a great shot and he’s a great finisher.”
• The one area of concern that Gigli cited was the midfield. He seems to have plenty of depth up top and defensively, but they took some graduation hits in the middle of the field — none more so than Derlis Zayas, who was arguably White Plains’ top player the past two seasons. “We lost two holding midfielders and from now until we open, that’s what I’m working on – trying to cover those positions,” Gigli said. “Some of the kids have changed positions and they’ve adapted to the positon. The kids are going to come in – a sophomore and a junior are going to cover those positons – and next year I’m expecting good things.”
• As many of you will recall, White Plains was involved in an incident last year in which a New Rochelle player threw a punch at Escobedo and broke his jaw during a game. Both teams have new coaches this season, and Gigli spoke about what they’ve done to address the situation and move past it. “I think we got past it last year,” he said. “We had a meeting right after the incident happened and we told the kids that was not us. … I’m expecting it to be a very smooth game. We’re going to go to New Rochelle and just represent the city, the district, and I told the kids, ‘Whatever happened, that doesn’t belong on the soccer field.’ Even the other kid (from New Rochelle) who made the mistake, that’s in the past. We’re going to step on the field, we’re going to be respectful, we’re going to be disciplined, and win or lose, everything is behind us.”
• The Tigers have had plenty of talent come through the program in the last few years, but early playoff exits have plagued them. They were shutout by Mahopac in the first round last season and sounded hungry to put it all together this season. “I am really motivated,” Almiron said. “We have do everything to win. That’s my goal for this year, my last year.”
File photos from The Journal News