By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
NORTH PORT — Get the ball to Teo’s feet.
Those words, uttered countless times by coach Gerard Gregoire, carried with them the shape and direction of the North Port High School boys soccer team’s offense.
Teo’s feet were the target. The stabilizing force of the offense. The soccer equivalent of a point guard’s hands on a basketball court.
“I’m supposed to know the right decision to make, where to go, where to play,” said Matteo Gregoire, owner of Teo’s feet. “Just do the right things to make the team flow and go forward.”
Matteo Gregoire is the Sun boys soccer All-Area player of the year for 2016, but not because he was the Bobcats’ most potent scorer (that would be Reuben Bohdanets), top defender (Kevin Simontchik and Tyler Smolik) or team MVP (Matt Menendez).
North Port, which advanced to the regional semifinals for the second time in school history, was the best team in the area this season. And Matteo was the engine that made it go.
“When he has the ball, it seems that there is always an end produce,” Gerard said. “The quality of the final pass is good. As a coach, you want to have those opportunities. And it seems, for the last two or three years, when he’s had the ball at his feet, he’s made the final pass that has unlocked the scoring opportunities.”
It was Gerard who nominated Matteo for the award, but the decision wasn’t made lightly. It’s not easy to nominate your son as the area’s best player, especially in a sport where the team far outshines the individual.
But in a team game, Matteo was more often than not a selfless player. In three seasons playing under his father with the Bobcats, he set a program record with 34 career assists. In his senior season this year, he set a single-season record with 14 assists, while also finishing third on the team with eight goals.
And like any good team captain, Matteo was quick to credit all of his success to the teammates around him.
“The midfield and defense did all the hard work,” Matteo said. “They were the ones grinding through every game. I was there to help a little bit, but it’s mostly them doing everything. Once they win it, then they relay the ball to me and it’s me making the final decision of where it’s going to go.”
But, Gerard said, not many players on the Bobcats could have made the passes Matteo did. And ff you know anything about his upbringing, that shouldn’t come as a shock. Playing soccer wasn’t really a choice in the Gregoire household. Not with Gerard as dad and coach.
So as a kid, Matteo trained five days a week and played games on the other two. Gerard, who also coached Matteo’s older brother, Nico, was always close by, either as head coach or assistant to Jose Fajardo, who’s son, Davian, was a goalkeeper for the Bobcats this year.
All that time spent together — the team practices, father-son training sessions and afternoons on the couch watching games on TV — instilled a lot of Gerard’s coaching philosophy into his son’s mind. So much so that Matteo become an extension of his dad on the pitch.
“I have the option or choice to do whatever he wants, basically,” Matteo said. “Whether it’s playing the ball over the top to the forwards or playing it out wide, it comes into me then out to the players where he wants it to be.”
“Whether other teams knew what we were doing or not, it didn’t really matter,” Gerard added. “I had confidence in him that he would do it.”
That’s why Gerard shouted himself almost hoarse telling his Bobcats to “get the ball to Teo’s feet.”
Good things tended to happen when they did.
North Port • Junior • Forward
Filled the void left by last year’s player of the year Gaspar Margaryan and led the Bobcats with 14 goals scored while also chipping in four assists.
Port Charlotte • Sophomore • Forward
Had what coach Joe Roca called an “incredible year” at the top of the Pirates attack, finishing as one of the team’s top two scorers.
North Port • Senior • Midfielder
Though his contributions aren’t noticeable on the stat sheet — he scored only one goal — Al-Arnasi was a physical presence on both offense and defense for the Bobcats.
North Port • Senior • Midfielder
Voted team MVP by his teammates after serving as a captain in his senior season. He was a leader on defense and also totaled 11 points on four goals and three assists.
Port Charlotte • Junior • Defender
Another area team MVP, Requena was “outstanding” as the leader of the Pirates defense and showed a marked improvement from the previous season, coach Joe Roca said.
Charlotte • Senior • Defender
Was a standout on a young Tarpons team, using his speed to lead the back line as the center back while also playing upfield enough to score multiple goals as a defender.
Lemon Bay • Freshman • Defender
The Manta Rays had a down season, but coach Zenon Luzniak said “things could have been a lot worse” without Witters, who was the heart of the team’s defense as a freshman.
Port Charlotte • Freshman • Goalkeeper
Cole showed well in the cage after senior starter Parker Murno suffered a season-ending concussion in Game 2 of the season, allowing one or fewer goals seven times in 18 starts.
Charlotte: Donal Rateau, Aaron Rivers
North Port: Kevin Simontchik, Tyler Smolik
Port Charlotte: Noah Couto, Jack Merritt