All-Delco Boys Soccer: Joe Pariano’s offense, leadership led Haverford School’s worst-to-first turn

HAVERFORD — Joe Pariano doesn’t mince words. “Awful” is his adjective of choice.

Haverford School struggled through a two-win season in 2021. Beyond wins and losses was the plummeting team morale, Pariano said, with some veterans quitting and a general discontent that a talented Class of 2023 wasn’t anywhere near living up to its potential.

So with a new coach this fall and a new crop of leaders, Pariano and his fellow co-captains set their intentions long before the season kicked off: 2022, they declared, would look nothing like 2021.

“I think it was really frustrating because our class was really strong, and we didn’t see eye-to-eye with our former coach a lot, and then a lot of the former seniors decided to stop playing,” Pariano said. “So especially for the kids who stuck around during a tough time, I think that paid off a lot this year. I think we got really close through that awful year, and that motivation this year, that we never want that to happen again, was definitely there.”

Haverford School’s Joe Pariano, right, dribbles past Episcopal Academy’s Sam Malloy during a game in 2021. (PETE BANNAN – DAILY TIMES)

The turnaround was about as drastic as possible. From two wins, the Fords accrued 14 this season. From the foot of the standings in the Inter-Ac League, Haverford worked its way to the top, clinching the title with a 7-2-1 record and a game to spare, a journey that also reached the semifinals of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament.

Between the lines, Pariano was central, the dynamic forward/midfielder leading the team with 10 assists and trying for a team-best six goals. Behind the scenes, Pariano led a trio of captains – with Andrew Kirwan and Z Nekoumand – who banished the pain of the past and, under first-year coach Keith Cappo, charted a renewed direction for the program.

Pariano’s importance to the Fords’ campaign is why he is the 2022 Daily Times Boys Soccer Player of the Year.

Pariano is joined on the All-Delco team by fellow Fords Connor Cresswell and Thomas Kaplan; the Haverford High duo of Okafor Norkeh and Sean Boyle; Radnor’s Brayan Chavez-Lopez and Jacob Shalev; the Episcopal Academy pair of David Knox and Eddie Jones; Nick Dignazio of Strath Haven; Sun Valley’s Bobbo Chambers; and Yoni Lindo of Ridley.

Cresswell and Boyle are on the team for the second straight year, Boyle having been the 2021 Player of the Year. Cresswell, Kaplan, Chavez-Lopez and Lindo are juniors. The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with area coaches.

Pariano maps a pair of inflection points in the Fords’ journey. The first came when Cappo took over in the summer, lured away from a successful stint at Ursinus College, to replace Dan Keefe. A former director at FC Delco and current boys coach at Penn Fusion, many of the Fords knew him well.

“I think a lot of kids already trusted him because they knew him from the club level,” Pariano said. “We already knew he was a great coach. … It was like, we know this guy, we trust him, he’s a great coach, and we’re going to kind of, not blindly follow him but put a lot of faith in him.”

Under the new coach, a loaded senior class took on the responsibility of assuring that the atmosphere would be refreshed, too. That included independent workouts during the summer, but also more team dinners to foster connection and grow closer.

Pariano is a relative latecomer to a group that includes many Haverford lifers. He grew up in Michigan and played at Michigan Wolves SC, an affiliate of the Columbus Crew. When the family relocated to southeastern Pennsylvania, his brother Nick attended YSC Academy. (A midfielder, he’s a three-year contributor at Duke, which reached the NCAA quarterfinals this year.) Joe started at FC Delco before moving to Lower Merion Soccer Club, while attending Haverford. He’ll join the college ranks in Division III, having signed with Hobart College.

As a full-time soccer player, part of Pariano’s duties involve integrating Haverford’s bevy of high-level athletes (mostly Division I lacrosse recruits) who also play soccer. By playing to each group’s strengths, Pariano helped the two groups amplify what each other does best.

“I think everyone kind of knows their role on the team,” Pariano said. “If you’re not necessarily a soccer-first kind of kid, you can really just be like, OK, I’m not going to be as technically gifted as these kids but I’m going to work 20 times harder. And so many of the (multi-sport) kids just go so much better from playing with soccer kids. I don’t know if they’re ever going to play again, but they definitely could after this year.”

The second important moment came in early September, when the Fords beat Pennington School at home, 3-1. The South Jersey school is a perennial regional powerhouse. Its boys team was ranked seventh among private schools nationwide this season by some outlets.

Not just winning but the ability to impose their will on Pennington was an indication of just how good to Fords could be.

“That win was monumental,” Pariano said. “We had such a good time after, and the confidence just kind of rose. … We had losses after that, but once we found that we could beat Pennington, we were kind of like, we can do this.”

The path to a championship had its pitfalls. Haverford School needed Kirwan to bail them out in wins over Malvern Prep and Penn Charter, the latter a 1-0 decision in OT. They fell to Germantown Academy in the first run through the double-round-robin Inter-Ac, but they hit the turn with momentum thanks to Pariano’s brace at home against Episcopal Academy. The first was a superb free kick bent around the wall, the second a one-timer from the top of the box that he put his laces through. A fourth win in five outings provided vital momentum for the stretch drive.

Two wins and a draw would set up a revenge matchup with GA, with the title on the line. The Fords responded with a 3-1 win, making the rivalry-day game with Episcopal irrelevant for the league title.

It’s a far cry from how the Fords ended the previous season … which is exactly what Pariano and company sought to make sure of at the outset of the season.

“I think it’s really exciting because for the future, you want to leave this place better than you found it,” he said. “And we can honestly say that.”

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