In many ways, this year's Martha's Vineyard Regional High School boys' soccer team is a study in contradictions.
While most of the players have been kicking the ball together since they were children, coming up together through the ranks of youth soccer and the recreation and travel leagues, other key players joined the team only recently, after moving to the Island from other countries like Brazil.
Looking at the roster you will find familiar Island last names whose families reach back on the Island for generations next to familiar Brazilian surnames of families who have moved here only recently. While the parents of many of the Island-born players are well known around the Island - including several teachers and coaches - the parents of most of the Brazilian players are first-generation Americans still learning to speak English.
But many people have credited this diversity - this fusion of international and Island-born players - as the primary reason the team is on such a roll.
Going into today's home game against Old Rochester Regional High School, the Vineyarders were 11-1-2 overall and 10-1-2 in the South Coast Conference. They are a lock for the playoffs, and many people expect the team to make a strong run at the soccer program's first division II state championship.
They lost their first game this week after going undefeated for over a month, and are ranked seventh in a poll by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. And that's not seventh in the region or even Massachusetts - that's seventh in all of New England.
And while there is an unmistakable international flavor on the team, which features players from Brazil, Peru, Uruguay and Jamaica, the core of the team is made up of players who have been together since they were young boys. Many of them first played together in mini-kickers, where they learned the basics of soccer like dribbling and passing.
The team includes 14 seniors. And all records and rankings aside, this is a team that both players and coaches will readily call bursting with talent.
"I can honestly say this is one of the best teams I've ever coached," said coach Bob Hammond. "It has the whole package; raw athletic ability, speed, passing and strength. Some of that comes from natural talent, some comes from training, and some comes from the fact that many of these players have played together for so long."
And while skill is certainly a key factor, Coach Hammond said the biggest advantage this team has over previous Vineyard squads is its depth. All of the bench players make contributions on a regular basis, and many of the part-time players could likely start on other teams, Coach Hammond said.
"Most teams are very lucky to have eleven players who stand out at their positions, and we actually have more than eleven. All the kids are aware of their individual roles. They understand that they are part of something larger," he said.
Because the makeup of the team changes dramatically when the seniors graduate in June, the players are acutely aware that there is no tomorrow.
"I think a lot of these players - especially the seniors - have thought a lot about [a championship] over the past few years. And they know that this is the year they are altogether at once to do it," Mr. Hammond said.
Coach Hammond said he and his staff are aware of the expectations surrounding the team, and have tried to keep that from creating undue pressure.
"We try not to put too much on them. But this is a team that knows how talented they are without being overconfident," he said.
The close-knit quality extends beyond the teammates to the parents as well. Marc Taylor, whose son is a senior full back, helped to found a special travel team when the boys were in middle school, and remains a committed parent, on the sidelines and at home. "These are just good kids, good students, they stay out of any real trouble," he said, adding: "You never want to jinx the kids, but if they ever want to go the distance, this is the year."
On the high school field early this week, four senior players - Ben Post, Anthony Capobianco, David Campbell and Zach Sylvia - took turns kicking a ball into the goal with a familiar rhythm. They said they had all known each other since they were young, and their years as teammates and friends was apparent.
"Yeah, we go way back. We've been playing together for a long time - too long, maybe," quipped Post.
He said the years playing together have helped team members pass and shoot more efficiently. They were cautious not to jinx the season by making bold predictions, but admitted they were enjoying the team's success and the attention it has generated.
"It's nice to get a little pub," joked Capobianco, turning the word publicity into a bit of easy teenaged slang.
The four seniors agreed that the addition of the international players has improved the team.
"I think all of them are great, they've given the team a little flair and a lot of personality," Post said.
"We love those guys," said Campbell of his international teammates.
On another part of the field, several Brazilian players, including Antulio Neto - the team's leading scorer and arguably its best player - were stretching and getting ready for practice.
Neto and several other Brazilian players laughed and chattered excitedly in Portuguese, but when asked a question by a reporter Neto quickly switched to English and politely suggested moving away from the field to a quiet spot.
Like most other Brazilians, he played soccer is his native country throughout his childhood, and started playing the game as soon as he arrived on the Island four years ago.
Neto said the American game is different from the game he played in Brazil. For starters, there is more of an emphasis on passing and a much more frenetic pace. Because so many Brazilian players are skilled ball-handlers, there was less passing and chasing after the ball when he played in Brazil, he said.
"And the field was bigger here. In Brazil we play a lot in the middle of a street. We didn't play a lot on the big fields. That changes how you play," he said.
Neto has been with the high school team for the past four years. He started his freshman year on the junior varsity team and then started on the varsity team as a sophomore.
"I'm proud to be part of this team," he said. "I'll do whatever I can do to help the team win."
Neto serves as an ambassador of sorts for the other Brazilian players. He often serves as translator to the other players if they don't understand something, and has also helped some of the Brazilian parents who needed assistance with things like paperwork, bills and court documents.
"I don't mind, really. I am happy to do it," he said.
There are four Brazilian players on the varsity team: Neto, Rodrigo Barcellos, J.P. Oliveira, and Torbelly Assis.
Zelaya Gonzalo, a foreign exchange student from Peru, has played off the bench, while Nicolas Cuba, who lived in Uruguay until he was 13, is the team's starting goalkeeper.
Mr. Hammond said the players from other countries have brought a great deal of skill to the team, although they have had to adapt their game to the American style of play.
"The pace of the game in America is a little more frantic, especially at the high school level because of the unlimited substitutions. There are always fresh legs out there," he said, adding: "I think their style has kind of rubbed off on the Island kids, and vice-versa. It seems both the groups have learned from each other and only gotten better."
Cuba, who is one of the team's more vocal players, agreed with his coach.
"I think it gives the team a little spirit. You can hear the Brazilian players at the games, cheering in Portuguese and it's great. You can tell they love the game and they are into the team," he said.
Asked if any Uruguayan fans attend the games, Cuba said that was less frequent.
"Because there aren't a lot of [Uruguayans] here on the Island. I think there's like 15 of us, I know that because I counted. But if they were here, they would be here to cheer, everyone in Uruguay loves soccer," he said.