GRAND ISLAND – Forwards get credit for goals. Goalies are credited for shutouts. Defenders often get lost in the shuffle.
So what does Grand Island defender Anthony Amato get? Enjoyment.
Long ago, Amato discovered that his love for football was not rooted in scoring goals, it was preventing them. No, he doesn’t get credit for saves because his role is to slide the ball before a player can even think of shooting.
Amato hasn’t scored a goal for the Vikings this year and has only collected four assists. But his game served as a quarterback for a Grand Island defense that allowed 17 goals and less than 100 shots on goal.
The senior assisted in 10 clean sheets – including a five-game streak without allowing a goal – as the Vikings posted an 11-0-1 record in the Niagara Frontier League in the regular season, winning a second places in the NFL and Section VI Class A2.
Amato’s game didn’t go unnoticed, earning New York All-Western First Team and All-NFL First Team honors. And now he’s been named the Greater Niagara Newspaper Men’s Soccer Player of the Year.
“I love to chase people and get more satisfaction from that than scoring a goal for me,” said Amato. “If somebody’s running down the line and I can chase them at 100mph and tackle them with the ball, that’s just dopamine for me. It’s much better than scoring a goal.
Grand Island head coach Frank Butcher believes there is a false narrative among many football spectators that the most skilled players play in the front or in the midfield. It’s hard to deny his claim as there are few concrete statistics to show the value of a defender.
Players with the best ball handling and speed skills are often placed on top from a young age and they grow in that position over time. During this time, the role of an advocate is often to make everyone look good.
The Vikings were built without a dominant marker. No player has scored double-digit goals, but six have scored at least five goals and five have had at least five assists. Butcher believes Amato could have excelled at any position on the pitch, saying: “It’s hard to find a player with his abilities in any position.” His defensive contribution was irreplaceable.
“People are going to think, ‘Oh, he’s not that good because you had all these great players,’ but he’s a major part of that,” Butcher said. “You take it out of the game and it would be like a domino effect. You will find things falling apart all over the field.
Knowing that Amato’s play would go unnoticed when calculating playoff rewards, Butcher attempted to put him in a late-game scoring position. But Amato refused, saying, “No, it’s my job. This is what I want to do.
“He’s a team player who wants to do whatever it takes to win,” said Butcher. “If you find a guy like him and put him in any position, it’s contagious on the team. If you see someone working that hard in practice, it makes you want to improve your game a little bit. In a game it’s a whole new level and people see how hard it takes to find it. this success.
Steadfast demeanor doesn’t come with a toggle switch when Amato steps onto the soccer field. His plan is to major in biology at Niagara University, as it’s near his home. Such determination may have fended off potential football contenders – his older sister Brooke is a key contributor for Daemen – so Amato will see if he can make the Purple Eagles.
Niagara is also near a gym where he boxes and hopes to have his first fight by January. Coincidentally, boxing puts him in the spotlight that he avoided in football. He loves having full control of the end result in boxing and having teammates to support him in football.
But one similarity that he draws from the two sports is physicality. Having the ability to fend off an opponent is something he appreciates. The stamina needed to last a 3 minute round is also comparable to the short bursts needed to stop an offensive attack in football.
“Chasing a guy down the field and knocking him down is my favorite thing to do – unless you’re making a mistake,” Amato said. “Strange as it sounds, I love to fight. It’s just something I love to do.
Honorable mentions for player of the year: Lewiston-Porter senior Robert Woods; Royalton-Hartland junior Peter Martillotta; Sean Graham, Senior from Grand Island; Lewiston-Porter junior Nathan Russell and Niagara Wheatfield junior Vinnie DiBello.
Nick sabato can be contacted by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NickSabatoGNN.