In a championship soccer game featuring teams as evenly matched as Northeast High and George Washington, the victor would have to play perfectly to claim the title.
The mighty Eagles soared past longtime rival Northeast High, 2-1, in the Public League’s Class AAA finals on Tuesday night at Charles Martin Memorial Stadium. They also extended their undefeated season to 13-0-1.
Senior striker Wilo Mimbar netted both goals for the Eagles, zipping the game-winner past Northeast goalie Howard Lynn in the 67th minute of game action, thanks to a nearly perfect assist from freshman standout Mohamed Conde.
“It feels great! I want to thank God for this, for keeping me focused and helping us win,” Mimbar said after the title triumph. “It took a lot of hard work and practice, but I believed in my teammates.
“Some of them were nervous, but for me — even though this was my first championship — I wasn’t nervous at all,” he added. “I knew if we gave it our all, we would win the championship.”
Mimbar’s two goals brought his season tally to 27, just one goal shy of tying the George Washington school record established by John Dunlop, who is now the head coach at Father Judge High School.
“On the field, it was number 21 all over the place,” said Washington coach Chris Reid, referring to Mimbar, “but if it wasn’t for Mohamed making that thirty-five-yard cross, we wouldn’t have an opportunity to do what we did.”
Both schools were heavily represented by loyal fans who crowded the bleachers equipped with cheers, homemade signs and, of course, vuvuzela horns.
The first half was swift back-and-forth action. Washington’s defense excelled, consistently disrupting Northeast’s powerful lineup. The game was scoreless for 25 minutes, until Mimbar punted the only goal of the first half.
After the halftime break, Northeast came back with a score to settle. Senior striker Kevin Kureta tied the game just 40 seconds into the second half. The Vikings continued to battle while applying pressure on Washington’s rookie goaltender, Dannill Paraskevov, but the sophomore guarded the Eagles’ net like a pro. He recorded seven saves.
For Northeast, it was a war until the bitter end. The Vikings hit the post twice in the final two minutes but were unable to score.
“Wow! One goal away! I thought that was it — overtime goal right there. I think I had a little heart attack right there,” said Paraskevov after the game, referring to the pair of post hits. “I feel such relief! So much pressure just vanished. To win as a sophomore starting on varsity, this is the best feeling.
“Teamwork was definitely what brought us here,” he added. “Wilo, Mohamed, it’s all in the team. You need a team to win. We needed everyone on this team to win tonight. It’s all in the teamwork.”
The George Washington squad had undergone a big restructuring of its roster halfway through the season. They lost the services of five players — including their starting goalkeeper — because of an altercation during school.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. The Eagles had just one regular-season game remaining and an undefeated record to defend.
“I lost three starters and two first guys off the bench midway through,” said Reid. “These kids here really deserve this. They worked so hard during practice and leading up to this with all the nonsense we went through this year.
“They’re a good group who did a lot of good things up to this point,” he added. “Everything they’ve done, they’ve done together. Through the good and the bad, they battled.”
The title is George Washington’s first Public League soccer crown since 2009; the Eagles’ last undefeated record occurred in 1984.
The Eagles will compete in the District 12 AAA title game on Thursday night against the winner of today’s Catholic League championship between Father Judge and La Salle.
“I’m feeling great. I think we got a little lucky, to be honest with you, but we worked hard for this,” said Reid. “Northeast played well. They’re a great team. It was an exciting game to be part of.” ••
Editor Melissa Yerkov can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org