The answer to the obvious question is no.
The Vineyard boy’s soccer team was expected to be good this year — everyone from captains to coaches agrees on that — but no one thought they would be unbeaten.
And yet there it is, the 13-0-2 record. The number 17 ranking in the state, in the top tier alongside division one schools and schools with enrollments three times the size of the regional high school. The Vineyarders have clinched the Eastern Athletic Conference title for the second time in three years; they are 7-0-0 in league play with one game left on the schedule. They earned a third straight trip to the postseason in the first week of October.
There are two games left in the season (scores from Thursday’s final league match against Bishop Feehan were unavailable at press time), and the team knows they’re wearing a bullseye. Before the final home game of the season this past Tuesday, junior co-captain Lee Faraca gave his teammates the end-of-season rundown: the last two games are away, Bishop Feehan is always a tough team and Dennis-Yarmouth “has gotten better since they played us last time.” Before any of that, the Vineyarders needed to take the current match against Bishop Stang.
“We have to close it out,” Faraca said, and the players jogged off to do a warmup lap. They pulled on yellow pinnies to play a practice possession game and lined up to fire blasts at senior keepers Ben Wadleigh and David Dasilva. They defeated Stang 2-0.
The team is justifiably proud of their record, but they’re not cocky about it. They know it’s the result of a refusal to quit and hours of time invested, a classic example of journey over destination.
That journey began not in September, but several years ago, when the players who are now juniors were in travel soccer. They had years to develop team chemistry before they moved up to high school, and brought that with them when they moved up to varsity this year, filling the holes left when 11 seniors graduated in the spring.
“When you consider how many very good players we lost, it’s a testament to the young guys because they’ve been competing against those [graduated] guys for the last couple of years and now it’s their turn,” head coach Damon Burke said. Besides the 10 juniors, there are six seniors on the 2013 squad. Sophomore Jason Lages, the team’s leading goal-scorer this year, and freshman Nevin Wallis are the lone underclassmen.
And there is overall team chemistry. “Hell week definitely brought us all together,” senior captain Sam Entner said.
The first game of the season, against longstanding rival Nauset, set the tone for the entire season, Coach Burke said. None of the players on this year’s team had ever beaten Nauset. Last year, the Vineyard fell 5-0 to the tough Warriors from the outer Cape.
This year, “We went up 1-0, and the last 20 minutes was us panicking and going on the defensive,” Entner said. “The team held on for the win, he said, but “it taught us a lesson because we weren’t playing our game those last 20 minutes. And then they got a lot of opportunities, which scared us.”
The Vineyard’s game is possession-based, an infuriating scheme for opponents if executed well, and this year the boys have all the pieces in place. Their hidden strength — ”I guess it’s not even hidden anymore,” assistant coach John Walsh said — is the stifling defense.
“I get criticized among my soccer playing friends for playing the system that we play because it’s a little antiquated — I’m a dinosaur,” Coach Burke said. “But it’s about as effective as a dinosaur walking around would be now.”
“We don’t dominate by scoring a bunch, we dominate by possessing a bunch, so the score doesn’t really reflect that,” summed up senior co-captain Kane Araujo. The Vineyard has scored 26 goals this season. By contrast, Nantucket, a team the Vineyard beat 3-0, has scored 40 goals.
On the other side of the net, the Vineyard boys have allowed just four goals all season.
“I never kept track [of goals allowed] before, but it was never less than one hand before,” said the assistant coach. The team has 11 shutouts and senior captain Wadleigh is tied for number three goalie in the state. Dasilva and junior keeper Matt Stone are perfect in net.
“The short-term goal was to develop everybody a little bit more in their position,” Coach Burke said.
The long-term goals were to challenge for the league title (check), beat teams they hadn’t beaten before (check) and move further in the postseason than before. No Vineyard team has won the Massachusetts South Section title, or won more than a single playoff game.
Coach Burke is matter of fact about the prospect. “I think they’re capable of it, but I think it’s terribly important that you know that when the time comes, you execute,” he said. “Soccer’s a heartbreaker; you can do everything right and be unlucky, or you can do everything wrong and have a moment of luck that gets you through.”
So far this season the team has worked to make their own luck. They’ll add a little bit of superstition to the mix come the postseason. No playoff beards, like the Red Sox. “We were thinking of doing mohawks,” Wadleigh said.