According to his teammates, Matt Stone, goalie for the Vineyard Youth Soccer under-14 team, has an eye for finding four-leaf clovers.
It’s safe to say, though, that the recent success of Matt’s team has little to do with luck.
The U14 boys finished up the regular spring season on May 21 with a perfect 8-0 record — their third straight undefeated season. The next week they stormed past four teams in three days during the Cape Cod Challenge Cup in Sandwich to take the tournament trophy for the second year in a row. They’re the Vineyard equivalent of three-peat Spanish League champion FC Barcelona. The U14s have a better regular-season record, though.
The key to soccer success is the same regardless of league or level. The seventeen U14 teammates have been playing together for four years and have been guided by the same duo, head coach Esteban Aranzabe and assistant coach Matt Poole, since they started. They don’t claim to have any sort of intrateam telepathy, although twin forwards Andrew and Peter Ruimerman may be an exception to this. As defender Tim Roberts explains in blunt eighth-grade fashion, “We’ve been practicing a lot.”
Practice for the spring season begins in January inside the Boys’ and Girls’ Club which Mr. Aranzabe calls the team’s “home house.” Two of their trophies are on display there.
They play indoors until March, practicing once a week for two hours. As competition season approaches they step it up, taking to the fields on Tuesdays and Thursdays in anticipation of the impending season.
The boys admit that this season was tiring. The U14s didn’t have their first bye until the final week of the season and played eight Saturdays in a row. Not that any exhaustion showed on the field. Only two teams, Oceana and Norton, managed to score on the Vineyarders. The U14s, meanwhile, notched 33 goals in their eight games.
Forward Lee Faraca credits the team’s dominance to its coaching staff.
“Esteban’s amazing,” he said.
Mr. Aranzabe began coaching when he was 17 and has been involved with Vineyard soccer since he moved here from his native Uruguay nine years ago. He’s been teamed up with Mr. Poole for almost as long, despite not speaking much English when he first arrived.
At their first meeting, Mr. Aranzabe remembered with a laugh, “I said ‘Okay, okay,’ and [Matt] just thought I could do everything.”
During a recent Thursday practice, however, it’s the U14s who do everything. They run laps nonchalantly then break into all-out sprints (“100 per cent!” calls Mr. Aranzabe), pair up trying to score on Matt Stone, juggle soccer balls up and down the field (the soccer balls never touch the ground), field sky-high passes from Mr. Aranzabe, and, for good measure, jog backwards while heading a ball tossed by a teammate. The mood is light throughout, but there’s no denying the focus of each player.
June brings both a respite, in the form of the long-awaited bye week, and a flurry of action for the team. They are scheduled to play Norton again in the semifinals of league play and will be competing in the Massachusetts Tournament of Champions at the end of the month. In between the games half the team will travel to England as part of the West Tisbury School’s annual England Exchange program.
“We’ve got a bunch of complications which is just what happens during the eighth grade year,” Mr. Poole notes, worrying about his team’s focus upon returning from Europe. They are just 13 years old, after all.
When the season is over the team faces a complication of a different sort. Every player except stopper Anders Nelson, the lone seventh grader, will enter high school in the fall. All of the players plan to play soccer for MVRHS, though it’s been a while since they’ve played with anybody who’s not a U14. The boys expect things to be different, but they’re ready.
And when next January rolls around the bulk of the squad expects to be back together as a unit again. New name, the U16s, same dynamic play.