SOCCER PREVIEW: Saline Aims at 4th Straight SEC Red Title


The Saline varsity soccer team went 15-2-1 last year, capturing their fourth straight SEC Red championship and winning their MHSAA District tournament in dramatic fashion on a foggy night at Hornet Stadium. The Hornets advanced to the regional final before falling to Mattawan, 1-0.

While the Hornets graduated a lot of star power, expectations remain high for a young Saline team. Coach Ryan Williams returns as head coach of the Hornets. He outlined the team’s goals.

“First we are going to work very hard to try and compete for a fourth consecutive SEC Red title. We have won three in a row which is a first for the boys' soccer team at Saline, so our goal is to keep it going and win a fourth,” Williams said.

And those lofty goals extend to the postseason, as well. The deeper the team goes, the more time the players get together.

“Secondly, our goal is always to play as long together as possible. Along that way would hopefully bring a district title to Saline and work hard to win a regional title as we fell just short last year,” Williams said. “A lot of returning players hope to make it further than we did last year, and simply earning more time together by making a playoff run is what it's all about. We will be working towards getting better every day and our goal is to play our best soccer at the end of the season.”

The Saline varsity soccer team is pictured. In front are Luke Allen, Elijah Gray, Michael Bryant, Colin Learman, Noah Lepore, Joshua Kuehn, Connor Mitzel, and Jackson Ford. In back are Jake Day, Drew Barker, Jason Chen, Charlie Schroeter, Evan Grill, Collin York, Benjamin Faulkner Caleb Popescu, Christian Rossi and Riley Behrman.,

Williams counts team chemistry, coachability, work ethic and goal-scoring ability as strengths of the team.

In terms of chemistry, the team has been hard at work throughout the offseason.

“This group loves being around each other and has great relationships with one another as they do a lot of things together on and off the field,” Williams said. “I believe this group truly has bought into the Saline soccer family atmosphere and they have a team-first mentality, which is so important in team sports.”

Williams said his team works hard, sacrifices and listens to coaches.

“The effort has been fantastic at each practice and each player on the team is willing to do whatever is asked of them,” he said. “I have moved players around in positions they may not be as familiar with or comfortable with, but they've been very willing to learn and be coachable to help the teams success.”

Saline's captains are Luke Allen, Christian Rossi and Jackson Ford

Another key strength is the ability to generate offense. That ability is personified by junior captain Christian Rossi.

“Christian Rossi is a big strength to the team this season as he's been the past two. Christian should be a candidate for Mr. Soccer as I believe he is one of the best players in the state,” Williams said. “With such a strong forward, we should be able to get scoring opportunities in each game we play. He will draw a lot of attention from opposing teams, so we will have to get creative moving forward and teach players to find the open player off the ball as there will be openings with Christian getting so much attention.”

Still, Williams said the team can improve its touches and play faster by limiting touches.

“This team has many good players, but playing in tight spaces won't be easy to do often. We will have to work hard on possession but also understanding our strength won't be building from the back,” Williams said.

While the team has great strengths, they also face challenges. Williams said there are a lot of new faces on the team who are playing at the varsity level for the first time.

“This will be an adjustment for those players as the game is so fast at the varsity level. I have full confidence in those players that they'll progress as the year goes on, but it may take some time adjusting to the speed of the game and physicality of high school soccer,” Williams said.

The Hornets also have to find the right combination on their back four. Williams has plugged lots of players into the defense and expects the experimentation to continue into the season.

The starting lineup is expected to change throughout the season, but Williams discussed a lineup you might see early in the season.

At Forward, Rossi plays between Drew Barker and Evan Grill. Williams expects the aforementioned Rossi is on a path toward high-level college soccer. He was second-team all state as a sophomore and was first-team all-conference as a freshman and sophomore. He doubled his output from 9 to 20 goals last year.

“Christian leads by example by always working hard, being positive, and not settling for mediocre play. He is constantly raising the level of play at practices and is really having a positive impact on his teammates,” Williams said. “I fully expect him to be putting the ball in the back of the net many times throughout the season.”

Rossi is one of three captains.

Williams also thinks Barker, a junior, will have a big year. He scored two goals at a pre-season tournament at Rochester.,

“Drew was on the team last year and contributed as one of our main guys off the bench. This season Drew is going to have a breakout year and you will see him on the scoresheet a lot. Drew is very technical, and is dangerous whenever he has the ball as he has a phenomenal shot,” Williams said.

Grill could be the most improved player since last year.

“Evan has played very well early in this season and is a player we need good minutes from. He is a big kid and will work very hard for the ball. The speed of the game was a little challenging for him last season, but I've seen him focus on playing quicker with the ball and he has done a very good job of being involved and dangerous in the attack for us,” Williams said.

Connor Mitzel, Jason Chen and Charlie Schroeter are the Center Mids.

Mitzel made the team as a freshman last year, Williams sees a bigger role for him this year.

“He is an absolute beast in the middle of the field as he wins so many balls for us and is a great distributor,” Williams said.

At Center Back, expect to see junior captain Luke Allen and Ben Faulkner. Senior captain Jackson Ford is at Left Back and Noah Lepore is at Right Back.

Williams talked about the leadership on his backline.

“Luke is the rock in our backline who will win so many tackles and keep us organized. He is a great communicator and people who come and watch us play will hear him the entire game. He is always directing teammates and helping others with what he is seeing. His vocal leadership is funneling into others as kids are starting to talk more and more,” he said. “Luke is a player who will be very solid in the back as he reads the game so well, and you will also see him making runs forward up the field and getting involved in set pieces. Luke is also very good in the air and we will rely heavily on him to win many 50/50 balls.”

The team wants to utilize Ford’s speed in transition.

“We are going to work hard on getting him involved over and over again up the width as he has game changing speed. He is the fastest player on the roster, and is very good at overlapping players up the wing and finding crosses,” Williams said. “Jackson is also a lock down defender and very rarely gets beat off the dribble. He will be a player that we could utilize in a variety of ways as he is so athletic. He's been setting the tone at practices with great leadership and work ethic which has been so important for this team.”

Williams also counts Faulkner as one of the most improved players on the team.

“He has really improved his decision making with the ball and wins a ton of tackles for our team. Ben is very athletic, and will be a very key part of our success in the backline,” Williams said.

The SEC Red will be tough as ever - even tougher this year as Dexter joins the conference. Pioneer, Skyline and Huron are always tough. Monroe continues to improve.

“There won't be any nights we can take off. I haven't seen these teams play yet, but I fully expect the games to be very competitive and tight,” Williams said.

Williams is joined on the sidelines by returning JV coach Ian Sturms, goalie coach Austin Valentine and new freshman coach Conner Williams, who returns to the program after starring for the Hornets six years ago.

Below are the JV and freshman pictures and rosters for all three teams.


2021 Saline Men’s Varsity Soccer Roster






Caleb Popescu




Colin Learman




Connor Mitzel




* Luke Allen *




Marko Karac




Josh Kuehn




Noah Lepore




Charlie Schroeter




Drew Barker




Jason Chen




* Jackson Ford *




Eli Gray




Ben Faulkner




Collin York




Michael Bryant




* Christian Rossi *




Miroslav Karac




Evan Grill




Jake Day




Riley Behrman



* Captains


The Saline junior varsity soccer team is pictured. In front are John Arval, William Loveland, Jackson Phillips, Geoff Dinu Daniel, Jacob Piniatogiou, Alex Larson, Lucas Caruana, Cole Townsend and Carson Harris. In back are Jaedyn Sifuna, Gunnar Bohlender, Brady Sattler, Anthony Gentile, Sean Courtney, Nicholas Graden, Colton Whalen, Collin Brophy and coach Ian Sturms.

First Name Last Name Grade #
John Arvai 9 5
Gunnar Bohlender 10 23
Collin Brophy 10 12
Lucas Caruana 10 15
Sean Courtney 10 16
Geoff Dinu Daniel 10 7
Anthony Gentile 10 25
Nicholas Graden 10 9
Carson Harris 10 3
Alex Larson 10 4
William Loveland 9 11
Jackson Phillips 9 2
Jacob Piniatoglou 10 6/21
Brady Sattler 9 22
Jaedyn Sifuna 9 24
Cole Townsend 10 8
Colton Whalen 10 13


The Saline freshman soccer team is pictured. Collin Musser, Stephen Reck, Lucas Urdangarin, Micah Gray, Eric Friedholmm Keegan Cahill, Saman Meshinchi and Morgan Widman. In back are Devin Vreeland, Case Rumpsa, Otto Spitler, Preston Lynn, Oliver Wancier, Owen Bloch, Jacob West, Leo Hoffman and coach Conner Williams.

First Name Last Name Grade #
Owen Bloch 9 18
Keegan Cahill 9 7
Eric Friedholm 9 25
Micah Gray 9 15
Leo Hoffman 9 14
Preston Lynn 9 12
Saman Meshinchi 9 8
Collin Musser 9 9
Stephen Reck 9 17
Case Rumpsa 9 5
Otto Spitler 9 16
Lucas Urdangarin 9 4
Devin Vreeland 9 2
Oliver Wancier 9 11
Jacob West 9 3
Morgan Widman 9 6
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