BREMERTON, Wash. — The Kitsap Pumas have announced that they will be re-signing center backs Rene DeZorzi and Derek Szanto. Szanto and DeZorzi were part of the club’s defensive platoon that conceded only four goals in regular season play in 2015.
“Without a strong defense, it becomes much harder to win games,” head coach Cameron MacDonald said. “In Derek and Rene, we’re returning two players who understand what our standards are in that regard and who will be important for us again this year.”
While the experienced DeZorzi and the youthful Szanto took very different journeys to arrive at Kitsap, they will both add a mix of athleticism, physicality and work rate to the squad.
DeZorzi, who grew up in Vaughan, Ontario, attended Niagara University, where he anchored the Purple Eagle back line for four seasons. While at Niagara, he scored six goals and added six assists while starting 79 games, which ranks him fourth all-time at Niagara.
His outstanding play earned him numerous honors, including a First Team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference nomination, a MAAC All-Tournament Team spot and even MAAC Tournament Championship MVP.
DeZorzi also started for two other PDL sides before he signed with the Pumas following the conclusion of his collegiate career. He played for Hamilton FC in 2011 and London FC for the next two seasons, where he won a PDL National Championship in 2012.
“As we push to win our second national title, having players with Rene’s experience will be vital,” MacDonald said.
The imposing Canadian center back wasted no time in making an impact on the squad, as he helped lead the club to a Northwest Division title, a Ruffneck Cup, a Western Conference title and an appearance in the 2014 PDL National Final. In total, DeZorzi started 14 games for the Pumas as they went on to be ranked in the top 10 nationally in both goals allowed and goals-against average.
“The Pumas and Kitsap community in general have been incredible,” DeZorzi said. “The organization has treated me extremely well over the past few years, and it has allowed me to grow as a player and as an individual.”
After re-signing with the club in 2015, DeZorzi started at center back for eight games before suffering a season-ending foot injury in a 1-1 draw at Calgary Foothills. During that time span, the Pumas went 6-0-1 in divisional play, conceding only two goals.
“Last year was superb,” DeZorzi said. “We accomplished many impressive feats as a team, and I think we owe a lot of our success to the high level of training each day. However, there was also a small feeling of underachievement because we knew we possessed the capability to win the national championship.”
As the 2016 PDL season looms, the Kitsap coaching staff wasted no time in bringing back the strong Canadian defender in hopes of correcting the disappointment of last season’s early exit from the playoffs.
“When the coaching staff contacted me about playing another season, I was actually working for Gintz Warner CPA, right here in Bremerton,” DeZorzi said. “I was thrilled at the opportunity to come back, especially since I missed the second half of the season due to injury. I feel that I have unfinished business left, and I am looking forward to getting started again.”
Szanto, the 20-year-old out of Temecula, California, took a much less conventional route to signing with the club. After his commitment to UC Irvine fell through, Szanto attended South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, an NCAA Division II program, where he captained the Hardrockers for two seasons.
Following a short period of bouncing around, Szanto transferred to Oregon State to focus on his academics. However, he quickly found himself searching for another outlet to pursue his childhood dream of being a professional soccer player.
“I first heard about Kitsap when I was at OSU, and I saw it as my opportunity to get back playing at a high level again,” Szanto said. “I have lived in a variety of different parts of the country over the past few years, and even though it wasn’t all glamorous, I believe those experiences enabled me to really mature to be the person and player I am now.”
After making the drive from Corvallis, Oregon, to Bremerton for the invitational tryouts, Szanto’s performance resulted in him being offered a contract with the club.
“Derek is a young defender who we believe has a bright future,” MacDonald said. “We’re happy to bring him back this year and see if he can’t build on what he did in 2015 with us.”
While Szanto found it difficult to break into the Pumas’ experienced back line, his work rate in training earned him two appearances for the club in PDL play.
“It was great getting to learn from the older guys,” Szanto said. “Last season was my first time in a professional environment, and the coaches really helped me to grow a lot as a player.”
After the season concluded, Szanto went on extended trials with both Club Tijuana of Liga MX and the Colorado Springs Switchback of USL.
“I went down to Tijuana, Mexico, for three weeks after last season ended, and that exposed me to a very high standard,” Szanto said. “I have also spent about a month training with the Switchbacks, which has really pushed me to get better as well.”
As training camp approaches the end of its first full week, Szanto is eager to use the experience he has gained in the offseason to build upon all the growth he made last year.
“I am very excited to re-sign, and I can’t wait to show the club how much work I have put in,” Szanto said. “My granddad always taught me to be the first one on the field and the last one off it, and I just hope to learn as much as I can game by game and do my part to help the club be successful.”
Transaction: Kitsap Pumas sign defenders Rene DeZorzi and Derek Szanto on April 8, 2016
Born: Aug. 12, 1991
Hometown: Maple, Ontario
Acquired: Signed on April 8, 2016
Born: July 17, 1994
Hometown: Temecula, Calif.
Citizenship: United States
Acquired: Signed on April 8, 2016