High School Soccer

From FDR’s dirt to the championship: Furness High School Boys Soccer

Photos courtesy of Furness High School Soccer

Furness High School Boys Soccer head coach Licinio Ferreira didn’t like the look of the schedule. His team had graduated five starters, and, in the first four games, Furness was scheduled to play the three biggest schools in the league, Central, Northeast and Washington. Ferreira wondered if his team would have the strength to get through that many losses. Maybe they would quit.

Senior left back Miguel Macias was worried too, knowing they were moving up. “I didn’t think we would do well, after graduating some key players.”

Ferreira didn’t play organized soccer growing up. A little indoor here and there, but nothing on the green. He grew up in Portugal, though. His dad loved soccer, and took Ferreira along when he went to the bar to watch games. At home, they listened to games on the radio. Without formal soccer experience, Ferreira trained himself as a coach, using YouTube to find drills.

Ferreira brought his love of the game to his ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom in South Philly when his wife told him he needed to get rid of all his soccer scarves and jerseys that were filling up the house. He brought them into his classroom and put them up. His students, from Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Europe, are united by their love for soccer. His classroom now had that love emblazoned on its walls.

Ferreira’s team practices at FDR park. That’s two miles from Furness. Some players ride their bikes to the field. Others hitch a ride with the two students who have cars. At FDR, they practice on the geese fertilized, mostly dirt, fields. Macias said, “The fields were difficult. Rocks and holes. We got used to it.” Geri Alimadhi, the team’s senior goalie explained, “Coach said, we play on this bad field, we are that much better when we play on a good field.”

Furness goalie Geri Alimadhi

Furness goalie Geri Alimadhi uses an unconventional ladder to tie up the net.

The team had another obstacle. Many of the players speak little or no English. The team had a Honduran at center back, an Albanian in goal, a Nepali at center forward, and a Vietnamese and Pakistani midfield. The team also had Mexican, Karen, and Burmese players.

Alimadhi said, “The ball talks for itself, we all understand.”

The dirt field, the ball talking, and internet coaching education worked. In 2012, Ferreira’s first year as coach, Furness finished first in the C Division, earning promotion to the B Division, and played well in the playoffs. In 2013 Furness finished third in B Division. A season later they finished first in B, beat an A team in the playoffs and earned promotion. They’d been winning. In regular season play last year, they were perfect. The team hadn’t fought through much losing, though, and they were young.

Ferreira’s team performed admirably in their first season in the top flight. Furness barely lost to Central. Then, against Washington they led 3-1 before Washington came back to win 4-3. Furness then tied Northeast. They did well through the rest of the season, winning five of their remaining seven games for a final record of 6-3-2, notching a fifth place finish. They won their play-in game with Tacony Charter 5-0. Then they upset fourth seeded Fels 3-2 to earn a place in the semifinal.

Macias said, “I was surprised by the new players and their dedication for the team.”

The first semifinal was played on Halloween morning. Furness, the fifth seed going into the playoffs, was facing off with Washington, the No. 1 seed. The team was wearing their away uniforms, black with a horizontal swathe of orange. Soccer players in the stands expressed envy for the uniforms “on fleek,” remarking that the team must have had them made especially for Halloween. When Washington scored, it looked like Furness’ season was finally coming to an end.

At halftime, Ferreira told his players, “Washington came back against us. So you can do it against them.” He had taught them to always fight, even when they were down. Then Ferreira sent them back out on the field.

DSCN6745

Captain Jawad Khan brings the ball up the field.

In the second half, team leader Jawad Khan brought a cleared ball down calmly and fed it to Kue Luie. That was what he’d been doing all year, being in the right place, making the simple effective pass, organizing the midfield, and providing physical leadership for a small team.

Luie was a creative force. He danced around a Washington mid and laid a measured diagonal pass inside the eighteen. The Washington keeper was forced into action and charged out, but arrived late, as Nhan Phan one-timed past him for a goal that was as much about passing as it was about finishing. Tie game.

Washington had periods of pressure but couldn’t convert. The game went to sudden death overtime, and Furness moved the ball around, creating waves of pressure. Finally senior leader Christian Bautista collected a loose ball. He dribbled around two Washington players and sent a curling ball toward the upper ninety. The Washington goalie was beaten. A Washington player, with the season on the line, turned into goalie number two and swatted the ball off the goal line. He lay down, ostensibly injured, perhaps hoping that the officials would forgive him the infraction if he was hurt badly enough. They did not; he received a red card. Furness forward Santosh Gurung, lead goal scorer in the Philadelphia Public League with 21 goals, stepped up and slotted the penalty home. The Furness team turned into a Halloween celebration, orange and black dancing on a green field.

Furness had already won their way to the Public League 2A title, but they had a chance on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 to play for the Public League championship when they faced off with Northeast High School.

When Northeast captain Adin Hernandez scored this dipping dagger on a carefully scripted free kick a lot of teams would have given up, especially when they heard the jubilant support from the Northeast fans, more so because their captain and midfield leader Khan was out with injury since the last game, while defensive leader Bautista had been out from the twenty minute mark.

Remarking on how this team plays when they down and using bench players, Ferreira said, “they rally around each other.” Missing two of their best defensive players, Furness somehow held the best team for the past two years in the Public League. The team worked and worked, and finally got a chance, a free kick 45 yards out. Goalie Alimadhi stepped into the opposition half and took it, skidding the ball into the penalty box. It glanced off a Northeast head and into the net.

Alimadhi, who played in the Parma youth academy for four years and loves playing goalie because he gets to be the heart of the team, wanted that jeering crowd to remember this moment. He took off his shirt. He made some gestures. The official saw the shirt come off. Alimadhi saw yellow. In NFHS soccer, a yellow means a five minute sit out. Alimadhi was the team’s goalie. There wasn’t a second keeper, just a field player who was athletic, but short.

Northeast head coach Kraig Feldman knew it was a chance. Northeast captain Hernandez knew it too, so when the ball was served in, the confident hands of Alimadhi were absent. Instead, Hernandez met the ball with his head, punching through the ball to send it into the orange plastic twine, and his Northeast team to their second consecutive Public League championship.

For Furness it was a sad moment, but the team knew that they had come a long way. Ferreira knew that the team had performed beyond his expectations. They knew how to move the ball. They knew that they would be behind each other all the way.

Macias said, “Coach taught us to always fight.”

Furness Boys Soccer and Coach Licinio Ferreira

Furness Boys Soccer and head coach Licinio Ferreira

9 Comments

  1. “The ball talks for itself, we all understand.”
    .
    .
    .
    Brilliant.
    .
    Josh…if you happen to speak with the Furness coach again… mention 3four3 to him… best education going right now. All online. Self learning. They also have a coaching membership that is top of the heap…but with limited membership that only opens occasionally..I do think it is an open enrollment period right now though.
    .
    They provide coaching structure the coach provides his art…

  2. great article; thanks for posting!!!

  3. I know the coach personally, and will relay the 3four3 message. Thanks. What a great year. Go Furness!

  4. A great artical. My reading speed increased as the tension and anticipation built. Fun reading ending with joy for the team.

  5. 2012 Former player says:

    Joy in tears reading this.

  6. Loved this article. What a lesson in life this coach is providing these boys. Well done.

  7. Kensington bluebeller says:

    Love the game, that’s what it’s about.

  8. Dennis drumm says:

    Nice article d
    It a always been about hard

    work and dedication and they seem to bring the word communication to new levels.
    And as we can clearly see its a high levelI.

    Nice job. Josh…Dennis Drumm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com