The season of soccer — just like the World Cup, it will never die
Enterprise file photo — Jordan J. Michael
Getting ahead: The Guilderland boys’ soccer team won a sectional title last fall and extended its season all the way to the state semifinals. Here, Chris Connolly heads the ball during the Dutch’s regional final victory against Baldwinsville; Connolly scored the winning goal in sudden-death overtime.
In the spirit of the World Cup, which is playing out in Brazil right now, The Enterprise is looking back on the exciting soccer season in the fall of 2013.
Yes, the rest of the world refers to this sport as “futbol.” No, most, if not all of these local players, will never make the United States Men’s National Team roster. However, they can dream and have fantasies.
Furthermore, the United States lost to Belgium, 2 to 1, in extra time of the Round of 16 on Tuesday. Every World Cup, USA seems to sputter out in the first round of elimination, leaving this country’s raucous soccer fans hungry and disjointed.
Soccer is what America calls this sport. If we ever win the World Cup — and it may take longer than you’d like to think — we should force the rest of the world to call it “soccer” for four years. We would have earned that much.
Here, The Enterprise relishes the importance of soccer.
We’ll talk to the top players from Guilderland, Voorheesville, and Berne-Knox-Westerlo about the great moments they had last fall, and what effect an international tournament like the World Cup has on our country.
Tie your cleats tight and pull up your socks. Soccer is more popular than ever.
Dutchmen run wild
Surprising most of Section 2, but probably not itself, the Guilderland soccer team plowed through the Class AA playoffs, winning a title, and making it all the way to a state semifinal showdown with Fairport in Middletown.
Almost every playoff game for the Dutchmen was intense in one way or another, and the team had a knack for scoring sweet goals off of set pieces. During sudden-death overtime of the regional finals against Baldwinsville, Connor O’Brien, a rising college freshman who will play for Stonehill College, hit a long free kick for Guilderland into a slew of players in front of the goal, and Chris Connolly touched the ball in.
“It was overwhelming joy,” former Dutch goalkeeper Kedrick Weeden recalled this week; he’s attending the University at Albany in the fall. “I always wanted to win sectionals, and then we took it a step further.”
Entering the state semifinals against Fairport, Guilderland had given up only 20 goals in 20 games. It was a nail-biter of a match, but Fairport scored three goals to the Dutchmen’s one.
“I’m still really happy,” Weeden said of Guilderland’s soccer season. “We knew we were a top team, but you can’t predict making States. No team [from Section 2] was that dominant, so it probably could have been any team. You just have to be on the top of your game.”
Guilderland had 12 seniors on the team, and Weeden says that they’d all been playing together for quite some time. Now, all these kids are spread out in different directions, but they’ll always have the memory of 2013 to hearken back to.
“It was such a strong bond,” said Weeden. “Towards the end, we were playing really well.”
The Dutchmen won a state title in 1989, and 2013 may have been the best soccer since.
Weeden could not speak of the effect of the 2014 World Cup on the youths playing soccer in America, but he has been watching many of the games. Spain was his pick, but it missed the elimination round.
“I’m surprised that Costa Rica and Columbia are still alive,” he said.
As a goalkeeper, Weeden was paying extra attention to the United States keeper, Tim Howard, who made a World Cup record 16 saves in the loss to Belgium on Tuesday. Howard was truly amazing, but his levee broke.
“He never gave up, and that’s our attitude,” Weeden said. “There was a lot of pressure on his shoulders, and I wish I had that kind of skill.”
After losing its first game of the fall 2013 season to Schoharie, 6 to 2, and then tying Duanesburg in the next game, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo soccer team didn’t lose another league contest. Giving up only 15 goals during the regular season, the Bulldogs won its first Western Athletic Conference championship since 2003.
“It was a huge victory for us,” said Travis Fairlee this week. “We stuck with it.”
Four games into the winning streak, Fairlee said, BKW realized that it had the potential to win the league. Fairlee said that Jim Gillis, the Bulldogs’ head coach for more than 20 years, was hammering the team with hard practices.
“Gillis pushed us because he knew we could do it,” said Fairlee. “We pulled together after a crappy start.”
BKW was letting very few goals through while it was on its winning streak, but it wasn’t scoring very many either. One or two goals would usually be enough for a Bulldogs’ victory, Fairlee said.
Getting the third seed in the Class C playoffs, BKW hosted Schoharie in the quarterfinals. As one of the Bulldogs’ fiercest rivals, the Indians had been giving BKW fits for years, and that again was the case in 2013. Schoharie blew out BKW in the first game of the season, but then BKW took the next game, 1 to 0.
“Personally, I didn’t think winning Class C was in the works,” Fairlee said.
In that quarterfinal game, BKW and Schoharie battled for 99 minutes into overtime, and then the Indians’ Morgan Henry was able to end it after being allowed time to place his shot to the lower left corner of the goal.
For the entire season, the Bulldogs’ defense had been a blanket, so having a defensive error responsible for the end of its season seemed bizarre.
“It was a really nervewracking game, and we had to get ourselves psyched up before; we were really nervous,” Fairlee remembered. “That was not a good loss, but we put all of our hearts into it.”
Fairlee, who will be attending Siena College this fall for actuarial science as well as running for the cross-country team, is evidence that not all soccer players pay attention to the World Cup. He hasn’t watched any of it.
“I never really cared to watch sports,” he said. “Soccer isn’t my main sport, and I’d rather just play it, instead of watching someone else.”
Blackbirds soar once more
Voorheesville may be one of the most consistent soccer teams in Section 2 when it comes to a winning record and playoff appearances. Year after year, the Blackbirds are in the mix, and always seem to attract high-profile games.
After squeaking by Greenville, 1 to 0, last fall in the first round of Class B sectionals with a nifty goal by Sean Nolan late in the match, Voorheesville was gifted a quarterfinal contest with defending state champion Ichabod Crane. The Riders were the number-one state-ranked team.
“We get brushed off because we’re a small school,” said Nick Windsor, who just graduated from Voorheesville. “But, we play great games.”
Before stepping onto Ichabod Crane’s field, Windsor said that the Blackbirds were faced with plenty of doubt. “People thought that we were going to get killed, but we handled them as best as we could,” he said. “They had a great offense, and we were on our toes the whole time.”
Ichabod Crane controlled possession for the majority of the game, and constantly attacked Voorheesville’s defense, but there was no score at halftime. The Riders eventually scored in the second half off some “miss hits,” Windsor said, and the final score was 4 to 0.
“I don’t think they expected us to play so well, so they took it to another level,” said Windsor. “Once they scored, we tried to do something different.”
Goals can be hard to come by in soccer, and Windsor believes that a goal can make or break a team. Watching the United States play Belgium in the World Cup on Tuesday, he saw Belgium’s overtime goal, the first score of the game, break the USA.
“It’s like they wanted to go home,” said Windsor, who is going to the University of Buffalo in the fall for communications.
Belgium scored another extra-time goal before the U.S. tallied one.
“Just watch their reaction after Belgium scores,” Windsor said. “It’s almost like they quit.”
The 2014 World Cup is interesting; underdogs actually exist. People who don’t even play soccer are screaming at the television, Windsor says.
“If you do play soccer, then it amps you up even more than you already are,” he said. “The World Cup will end, and our team already lost, but people will always watch. It’ll never die.”