As a junior, Riverside soccer player Michael Spinelli was hoping the Vikings would overachieve and make headway in the Lackawanna Soccer League Division III standings.
But the reality interfered with those dreams, both as a team and as an individual for the Vikings’ center midfielder.
“I was pretty happy with how I played, but I got hurt and missed four games,” Spinelli said. “I was very disappointed missing those games.
The timing of the injury couldn’t have been worse for the junior, as his unavailability may have cost Riverside a chance at a precious victory.
“We were playing Mid Valley, a game we should have won,” Spinelli said. “I got kicked in the shins, and I missed the four games.”
Instead of possibly leading the Vikings to a much-needed win, Spinelli was stuck on the bench and watched Mid Valley rally from a deficit to post an overtime victory, stealing a potential win that would have bolstered the team’s confidence.
“The kids were saying if we had Spinelli, we would have won that game,” Riverside head coach Jamie Williams said, a clear reflection of what the junior meant to the team as both a player and a leader.
“He plays all over the field, and has a head for the game,” Williams added. “He has a great sense of soccer, always knows where he needs to be on the field.”
He did have an individual highlight that will stand out as the best memory from his junior season. When the Vikings met rival Old Forge on September 17, both teams delivered inspired performances in battling for victory.
Although Old Forge broke out on top in the first third of the game, Spinelli did his best to bring Riverside back.
After Connor Burdick had tied the game off an assist from Kaleb Jones, the Vikings set up for a corner kick, and Spinelli approached Jones, who would be taking the kick.
“I spoke to him before the corner, and told him to hit it to the near post,” Spinelli said. “He hit it low to the ground, and I got there and put it in.”
The goal, with three minutes left in the first half, gave Riverside a tenuous 2-1 lead.
As the Blue Devils tried their best to come back in the second half, the Vikings repelled every attack, fighting desperately to hold on for the win. Old Forge was unable to score, and Riverside had the victory, which turned out to be its only one for the season.
“That goal meant a lot, since it was the only win of the season,” Spinelli said. “I guess I’d rather beat them than anybody else. There was a lot of trash talking before the game.”
But then he suffered his injury, and as the losses began to pile up, he had to watch his teammates from the bench, helpless to get back on the field.
Although frustrated, Spinelli used the time to see what he could improve upon playing one of the most difficult positions in soccer.
What he saw may improve his game next year, when his senior leadership could be a factor in the development of the young Riverside program.
“The center mid plays both offense and defense,” Spinelli said. “I like to be on the offensive side, but I saw I had to spend more time on the defensive side.
“I got a better visual of the position.”
In part because of the Vikings formation, a defensive one featuring two sweepers, three backs and four midfielders, Spinelli saw he may have tended to relax after an offensive rush was stopped. Next year, his endurance will be tested as he tries to play more of an all-around game, trying to make an impact both on defense as well as offense.
He’s already made headway in that aspect of his game, seeing time on defense after he returned from his injury.
“He volunteered to play defense against the better schools,” Williams said. “We made him a fourth defender.”
Midfielder, defender, even as a striker, Spinelli will deliver his best, hoping it makes the team a better unit.