If you’ve been to a Saugus boys soccer game, you’ve likely heard Matt Sayers before you’ve seen him.
The junior goalkeeper’s booming voice, tinged with a British accent, positions teammates and pleads with them to give a little more, to push a little harder.
However, when it comes to what Sayers has meant to the Centurions’ season (which culminates tonight in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 final against Bellflower at Warren High in Downey), Sayers doesn’t have to say anything.
Those around him say it all.
“I can’t say enough about (him),” says Saugus coach Seth Groller.
“If it weren’t for him, we probably wouldn’t be here,” says senior James Johnson.
“He has been phenomenal for us,” Groller says.
Sayers, who is British, began playing soccer at 12 or 13 in Selby, England (near York).
He started off as a center back and a forward before settling in as a goalie.
A far bigger transition lay ahead.
In September 2015, because of his mother’s job, Sayers moved to the Santa Clarita Valley and enrolled as a sophomore at Saugus.
“Everything changed,” Sayers says. “School changed, my friends changed, house changed.”
Because teenagers can apply for a driver’s license a year earlier in America, Sayers earned his shortly after making the move.
“That was pretty crazy for me,” he says.
Soccer, though, required little adjustment.
Sayers started at goalie for Saugus’ junior varsity team last season, making strides in skill and smarts, before earning the starting varsity job as a junior.
His growth at the position has since accelerated: Groller says Sayers, an athletic 6-foot-3, has improved maybe more than any other player he’s coached.
It’s progress that can be credited, in part, to Justin Socarras, an assistant freshman coach at Saugus who worked with all of the program’s keepers a few days a week during preseason and has worked with Sayers every day during the postseason.
“I felt like I improved so much with the things he’s said,” Sayers says.
The most obvious improvement has been lateral. Sayers is better at getting to shots near the bottom corners of the goal.
“Taking quick steps,” he says, “instead of big, long steps, because obviously I’m quite tall and everything (is easier) being quicker.”
Sayers saved two of those low corner shots in Saugus’ 1-0 double-overtime win over Colony of Ontario in the quarterfinals on Feb. 25. He’s led the Centurions to nine shutouts in their last 13 games.
“He’s come up huge so many times,” Johnson says.
Tuesday’s semifinal wasn’t a shutout. Saugus started slow, and Norwalk pounced for a goal in the first 30 seconds, putting pressure on Sayers and the defense to hold up the rest of the way.
“There definitely was (extra pressure),” Sayers says. “But in my head, I was like, ‘No it’s not going to happen. I’m not going to let them score again. We have got to do our job, do what we do best.’”
Norwalk didn’t score again. Saugus scored twice, the second coming in double overtime and sending the Centurions to the program’s first-ever divisional final.
Sayers, for sure, doesn’t deserve all the credit. The Centurions’ back line of Brennen Armendariz, Jaydon Willsey, Jeremy Hindigian and Sebastian Wueste has steadily improved all season and is peaking in the playoffs.
The anchor, though, is Sayers, whose voice is put to other uses at Saugus, too.
When he’s not on the soccer field, he serves as a chant-leader for Saugus’ student section.
Was he picked for the role because of the booming voice?
“I think it’s because he’s one of the most competitive guys out there,” Groller says. “He means it. It’s not just a façade where he’s only a loud voice. He gets into it.”