The old adage goes that it's not how you start, but how you finish.
For all those involved with the New Canaan boys soccer program, they already know how 2014 will finish if it starts akin to how 2013 did: poorly.
Thus, the Rams are aiming to win quickly. And second-year headman Rich Sutherland, who has spent time coaching squads of all ages around the world, knows exactly how they're going to do it.
"We need to work hard," Sutherland said. "We need to get off to a better start ... if we can get a better start, get better position and move the ball better, we will make it difficult for teams to break us down. It's going to have to be a team effort. Then, we need to look at set pieces."
Last season, New Canaan finished 3-10-3, unable to string decent consecutive performances together until the possibility of making the postseason was far out of reach. The record drop was a far fall from the program's status as a perennial FCIAC contender, having taken home a Class L state title as recently as 2010. The biggest sore spot became its execution and defense of set pieces, as the Rams scored only once all season from such plays and allowed a stream of goals when trying to defend them.
Armed with a bit more experience across the board, New Canaan now hopes to ride a stabilized defense, team-first approach to scoring and improve set piece play to a winning record.
One of the Rams' two All-FCIAC East honorees from last year returns in senior captain Teddy O'Rourke, who provides stability to the back line. Fellow captains Chase Williams and Alex Hutchins are penciled in to occupy the midfield, though Williams will at times move up to striker. There, his job will be to help replenish some of the offense lost with the graduation of Harry Stanton.
"(The captains) have done well. They were good over tryouts, taking control and talking to the boys," Sutherland said. "And that's what I want from the captains. I want them to be in charge and guys that people will look up to and listen to."
Behind the leading trio lies a group of five to six junior players, who all boast a year's worth of experience under Sutherland. As tryouts concluded Tuesday, no freshman made New Canaan's varsity squad, though many earned a spot on the JV team. Considering that incoming youth, and the fact that a total of 91 players came out for this year's team, next fall's tryouts figure to host some remarkable competition.
However, there will be no competition this year between the pipes, as Griffin Patterson returns as the Rams' lone varsity goalkeeper.
"He's stronger, a little bit bigger and more confident after a good season," Sutherland said. "We're probably only going to have one keeper all year. Some other boys can play, but we're going to start out with one."
Patterson and company will open their new campaign at home against McMahon on Tuesday, Sept. 9. The Senators finished with only five wins last season playing in a top-heavy FCIAC central division, which also featured a 7-6-3 Norwalk team that the Rams will see at Dunning Stadium Thursday, Sept. 11.
After the initial games, Sutherland sees a slate that shouldn't provide so much difficulty in its structure that it could inhibit New Canaan from reaching its goals.
"I like to think that it's not a bad schedule for us," he said. "There are a few games that could come back to bite us and will be tough, but if we're winning games right after, our confidence will be higher and we'll be better."
Soon after its battles with the Norwalk schools, New Canaan will host rival Darien on Monday, Sept. 22, when the team will have the opportunity to avenge a tough 3-0 defeat to its chief rival one year ago. That day, the Blue Wave kept high pressure on the Rams all afternoon until breaking through with a late first-half goal and two more scores shortly after intermission.
"We're going to try to play the right way as much as possible," Sutherland said. "We're going to try to be difficult to break down, and for people watching, they should understand we're going to try to cover up all the gaps and make it difficult to play through us."
And if New Canaan can cover up its current biggest gap of all, starting slowly, don't be surprised if the Rams are back home near the top of the FCIAC standings come tournament time.