MAMARONECK — Luis Galeano wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when he decided to leave the U.S. Soccer Academy to play for his hometown team at Rye Neck High School. All that the talented striker knew was that he wanted to see what it was like.
As it turned out, the experience was even more enjoyable than he could have hoped.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Galeano said at the end of Thursday’s morning practice. “When I left, I knew what I wanted to do, and that was put the Rye Neck jersey on, just to try it. Now I know that this is the path that I want to go.”
Even as a sophomore last season, Galeano quickly became known as one of the best players in the Lower Hudson Valley. He led the Panthers with 21 goals and helped them win a surprising Class B championship.
But what really stood out was his ability to perform in the clutch. Galeano scored six playoff goals, including two in the sectional final win over Bronxville. His second goal came with less than two minutes to play and turned out to be the title-clincher.
“It felt really good, but I can’t really take the credit,” he said. “I would have to give it to the boys behind me. They helped me a lot, especially my coaches. They pushed me through the rough times and always told me that I could do it.”
With Rye Neck starting mostly underclassmen in 2014, expectations were relatively modest. The Panthers were able to fly under the radar and pull off a few upsets to capture the title.
This year will be a much different story. Eight of 11 starters return, many of whom are still juniors. Galeano mentioned midfielders Reed Peterson and Pierre Klur as players to watch, as well as his cousin, senior sweeper Willy Galeano.
“All of my teammates here are like my best friends,” Luis Galeano said. “We’re very fortunate to have everybody back.”
One void that Rye Neck will need to fill is in goal after graduating last year’s starter Rich Barrios, but Willy Galeano noted, “I think we’ll make it easier for the goalie because we have the same defense.”
A battle-tested defense, a speedy midfield and arguably the most feared striker in Class B are just a few of reasons why the Panthers are thinking about a repeat.
“It will be difficult, but I think we have a lot of talent on the team,” Willy Galeano said. “Obviously Bronxville is another strong team in the section, Blind Brook, Valhalla — they’re all trying to take the section title back to their schools. But I think we have a really good chance this year.”