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Woodbury believes its time is now

Woodbury senior Keng Xiong is one of the midfielders who could help the Royals hold possession for extended periods of time this season. (Bulletin photo by Jace Frederick)

Joe Quintavalle looked on as his Royals’ boys soccer team lined up for its team photo last week.

As he scanned his players he recognized a lot of the similar faces he’d worked with for the last few seasons, but something was different.

They’ve all gotten taller.

And on the field, they’ve gotten stronger and faster, as well.

Quintavalle’s crew, which has been one of the younger squads in the Suburban East Conference the past few seasons, now features nine seniors.

The Royals are all grown up.

“People should be afraid of us,” Woodbury senior Keng Xiong said. “For the past few years we’ve been the younger team with not a lot of seniors. But this year we have a lot of seniors and we should be pretty good.”

Not only does Woodbury have a senior core, but it’s the same players who have filled Woodbury’s roster for the last few years, so varsity experience in bountiful.

“It’s really cool. It’s like we’re finally here,” Royals’ senior keeper Jake Simon said. “I know we’re going to have a lot of varsity experience from me and a lot of people, because we’ve all been on varsity since we were younger. It’s really cool because we’re finally there, got the experience. II know we’ve played teams that have had more experience than us, but now we’re that team, so hopefully we’ll be able to use it to go far. Experience really does help.”

Woodbury has a plethora of talented players, and Quintavalle hopes the combination of talent and experience lead to results this season.

“They’ve gotten better with their skills and they’ve been playing really well as a team so far,” Quintavalle said. “So it’s huge that I can see that physically they’re bigger, faster, stronger and more comfortable playing together, too.”

Simon said this season the Royals hope to control the ball more and attack forward as a team, versus playing a kick-and-run style.

Woodbury has the guns to maintain control, as it has plenty of weapons at the midfield and forward positions.

Quintavalle mentioned Alex Santos, Colin Moriarty, Yuki Adams and Kohei Adams as players who will play big roles for Woodbury on the attack.

But there’s no question who the Royals’ primary showstopper will be.

“Brandon Bieszk will be our big playmaker,” Quintavalle said. “If we need goals, we can put him up top.”

But if the ball does crossover onto Woodbury’s half of the field, the Royals’ are fairly set back there, as well.

Leading the defensive charge is senior Ben Miller, who earned second-team All-State honors in 2013. Quintavalle said Miller is like a quarterback on the backline.

“He can make a huge difference, because he’s going to organize some things for us there in the back,” Quintavalle said. “It’s not just his skill, it’s his speed and his intelligence.”

Miller will have a running mate this season, as Josh Thoa joins the Royals after spending last year with his club team.

Woodbury has as much experience in net as anywhere else on the pitch. Simon and Aaron Clark have split duties in net for the past few season and will be back between the posts in 2014.

“I think we can put a really strong 11 on the field to start,” Quintavalle said.

The leaves depth as the only real question for the Royals. But Quintavalle is confident some of the younger options he has coming off the bench are poised for success.

“From what I’ve seen in practice I’m pretty confident that they can just come in and play well,” he said.

So there don’t seem to be many concerns regarding the Royals this season.

“We have to combine our talent with a work ethic to have a chance against anybody,” Quintavalle said. “If we do, I think we can beat anybody.”

Confidence is high these days in Woodbury. Xiong said in the past, Woodbury hoped to simply be competitive in the Suburban East. This year, it wants to win it.

The Royals think this could be their time.

“This year we should be on top,” Xiong said.