Connor McMahon is one of 14 players returning for the Bethlehem boys soccer team this season. The Eagles open their season Wednesday against Averill Park.
The Bethlehem boys soccer team is starting the 2011 Suburban Council season minus one of its leading scorers.
Forward Zach Rockmore is out until the middle of October as he recovers from a hip injury. That leaves the Eagles searching for other goal scoring sources.
Bethlehem senior forward Ethan Gunty said he believes there are plenty of people ready to step up in Rockmore’s absence.
“I think Rockmore will be missed, but we can play without him for a while,” said Gunty.
Gunty and Connor McMahon return to lead an offense that will lean heavily on a talented sophomore class.
“I have Connor, I have Ethan and I have some younger guys who should take up the slack,” said Bethlehem coach Phil Ridgway.
Gunty said one of his roles up front this season will be breaking in the sophomores to the varsity game.
“It’s a physical game going from JV [junior varsity] to varsity,” said Gunty. “I’m just going to play my game, but I’ll be showing them how to play and react to what’s going on in the game.”
Rockmore isn’t the only Bethlehem player dealing with an injury as the season starts Wednesday. Six other Eagles had minor injuries as the team wrapped up its preseason last weekend.
“That’s why I keep 27 players on the roster,” said Ridgway. “There are some little knocks — a lot of ankles and some shins, but nothing out of the ordinary.”
“The depth is great,” said senior defender Brad Campion. “We took a lot of numbers because of the injuries, but the number of players we took was because they can all play.”
Campion and goaltender Alex Kessler are two of the anchors in Bethlehem’s backfield this season. Defenders Kevin Maddock and Seth Partridge also return for their senior seasons.
“They know the routine, and they know the system of play, which helps a lot,” said Ridgway.
That veteran defense will come in handy for Bethlehem this season, since goals could be hard to come by in a highly-competitive Suburban Council.
“It’s not too much pressure [on us] because we are returning three starters, and a lot of the teams in the league have lost a lot of players on their defenses,” said Campion.
The South Division alone could be tricky for Bethlehem. Several teams have their sights set on first place including the Eagles’ two closest rivals in terms of distance — Guilderland and Colonie.
“Guilderland will be very good. They have a lot of guys back from last year. And Colonie is always strong,” said Ridgway. “I [also] think Mohonasen will be better than they were last year.”
As difficult as the South Division will be to navigate, the true strength of the Suburban Council is likely to be the North Division where all six teams — Ballston Spa, Saratoga Springs, Shenendehowa, Niskayuna, Shaker and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake — are legitimate Section II title contenders.
“It’s going to be a tough go in the North Division because everyone has got players back,” said Ridgway.
Bethlehem avoids the North Division through the first three games. After hosting Averill Park Wednesday, the Eagles play Guilderland Friday before traveling to Colonie Tuesday, Sept. 13. Their first cross-divisional game is Thursday, Sept. 15, against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake.
Campion said the Guilderland and Colonie games are important for Bethlehem.
“Guilderland and Colonie are definitely threats [in the South Division],” said Campion. “We face them twice, so we have to step up when we play them.”