Albertson defender sparks offense, hot start

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When it comes to the Albertson SC under-15/16 squad, head coach Adrian Gaitan makes no bones about the fact that he has relied heavily on defender Mark Romanowski to be the spine of his program.

"Mark's definitely the backbone of our team. Not just the defense, but the backbone of our team," said Gaitan, whose club leads the Liberty Division of the East Conference in U.S. Soccer Development Academy. "He's a great one-on-one defender, he's very fast, he's very good with the ball. He's extremely dangerous on any sort of set piece. He just does so many things for us."

Romanowski is a major reason why Albertson SC of Long Island is off to a 2-0 start in the division, and 8-1-4 overall.

"Mark is just very good at defending set pieces and attacking set pieces," Gaitan said. "So not only is he instrumental in defending set pieces and setting up those pieces, he's very good at creating a lot of goals as well."

Standing 5-foot-10 and weighing 165 pounds, Romanowski represents a sturdy, vocal presence on the field.

"I try to be a team leader in every way that I can, setting a good example. On the field, my position is sort of a natural leadership position," said Romanowski, a 16-year-old junior at South Side (Rockville Centre, N.Y.).

Gaitan will be counting on Romanowski yet again this weekend when Alberston SC faces the East Conference Mid-Atlantic Division-leading Baltimore Bays Chelsea (7-4-2) and second place D.C. United (7-5-2).

Albertson's been on a roll Since dropping a 3-0 decision to PA Classics on March 25. Albertson opened Liberty Division play with consecutive shutouts on Saturday and Sunday over New York Cosmos Academy and Met Oval by scores of 1-0 and, 3-0, respectively.

"We had gotten into a period where we giving up a few goals in some games, but in the beginning of the season, we had won a pretty good amount of games without giving up a goal," Romanowski said. "So last weekend those were two, huge victories to get us back on track. So now, we're getting back into a situation where we're playing better, defensively, which has been our main focus."

In addition to Romanowski, Gaitan credits defenders Jose Carvajal, Alex Leondis, Jonathan Proctor and Christian Moyse for allowing just eight goals and registering six shutouts over the course of 13 games in front of keeper Josh Haberman, who is playing in front of injured keeper Conor McElhinney.

Forward Jeff Banastey leads the team with five goals and midfielder-forward Santiago Moore has four. Midfielder Kevin Chavez is the only other multi-goal scorer with two.

"Beating the Cosmos was a big win, because a lot of our players are friends of theirs," Gaitan said. "So in terms of winning the division games, that's always a good start. It breeds confidence, especially on a team that's very young and inexperienced, because we do play a lot of young guys up. I think that we're really, really starting to play our best soccer."