Boys Soccer – 2019 SSN Player of the Year: Zach Orrico, Freehold Twp.
Halfway through his high-school athletic career, Zach Orrico had already established himself as a big-game player. He ended his sophomore soccer season by scored four of his Freehold Township boys soccer team’s five goals in two NJSIAA Tournament games, then was the lone sophomore starter on a Patriots boys basketball team that won its first ever NJSIAA sectional championship.
During the fall of his junior year, Orrico took his unofficial title from “Big-Game Player” to “Player of the Year.”
Orrico starred during Freehold Township’s push toward Shore Conference Class A North division and Shore Conference Tournament championships and his start-to-finish contribution to the Shore’s No. 1 team in 2019 lands him the Shore Sports Network Player of the Year for the recently-complete season.
At first glance, Orrico’s Player-of-the-Year resume is easy to spot. He finished tied for fourth in scoring among Shore Conference players, posting 17 goals and 10 assists (44 points), while playing in the always-grueling Class A North division.
If Orrico’s base production while playing on the No. 1 team in the final Shore Sports Network Top 10 got him into the Player of the Year conversation, his performance in big games pushed him over the top. He picked up at least one goal or one assist in six of Freehold Township’s seven divisional games, in which the Patriots went 6-1. In their lone loss – a 4-2 decision at Christian Brothers Academy – Orrico still managed to get on the board with one of the two goals.
Despite his production in those seven make-or-break division games, Orrico was the victim of a relatively slow start. He scored just two goals in the first six games and both came against St. John Vianney in a 5-0 win.
Slowly but surely, Orrico started to pick up his scoring and he peaked at the perfect time for his team.
Freehold Township opened the Shore Conference Tournament with a rout of Mater Dei and Orrico helped key the victory along with senior teammate Bennett Messinger. The two All-Shore first-teamers each put up a goal and an assist to get Freehold Township off on the right foot.
In the SCT quarterfinals, Orrico scored the first Freehold Township goal and assisted the second in a 2-1 win over Wall – the Shore’s top defensive team in 2019 by goals allowed per game (0.59).
Orrico was quiet in a 1-0 overtime win over Colts Neck in the SCT semifinals but more than made up for it in the championship game. The junior forward opened the scoring with his first goal of the game and later converted a penalty kick to tie the game at 2-2 in the 74th minute.
Even with Manasquan goalkeeper Joe Weinstein getting a look at an in-game penalty kick, Orrico converted his chance in the shootout round to help the Patriots secure the SCT title on penalties. The championship was the fourth in program history, third since 2008 and first since 2014.
Freehold Township’s season came to an unexpected ending when the fourth-seeded Patriots were upset by No. 13 Long Branch in the opening round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV Tournament. Orrico did his part, scoring the Patriots lone goal, which gave them the lead early in the second half. Long Branch would rally, win in overtime and make it all the way to the sectional championship game.
Freehold Township’s season opened with heightened expectations because of the return of players like Orrico, Messinger, Evan Savino and Adam Havens coupled with the addition of standout midfielder Tiron Shatku. After forgoing high school soccer to play with the Philadephia Union Academy Club, Shatku came out for the Patriots early in 2019 and gave them two electrifying performances before leaving the team to prepare for a professional tryout in Europe.
With its most dynamic player’s season ending early, Freehold Township regrouped and after falling to 4-4 with a loss to Rumson-Fair Haven, the Patriots won 10 of 11 leading up to their penalty-kick win over Manasquan in the SCT final. A lot of Patriots players came into their own during the championship run but none had ore of an impact on that particular championship than Orrico.