The Frankford High School soccer program has become a story of growth over the past few years.
It didn’t happen overnight, but, slowly and surely, the Pioneers have evolved into a quality crew of competitors. They’ve moved up to the Philadelphia Public League A Division this season, and now face the top squads in the area.
“This year, I probably am starting eleven of the most talented players I’ve had since I’ve been coaching,” said Rob Shelton, now in his fifth season as Frankford’s head coach. “The kids are enthusiastic and dedicated. We’re in good shape to compete.”
And at the forefront of their success — especially defensively — is Jeff Marc. The senior back has been a varsity player for the Pioneers for three seasons.
A native of Haiti, he’d never played organized soccer until teaming up with the Pioneers. These days he’s considered among the top defenders in Northeast Philadelphia and has received attention from some college programs.
“Jeff has gotten better every year. I had him in class for two years and on the field,” said Shelton, also a mathematics teacher at Frankford High. “He comes out here and plays hard. He’s a smart student and a hard-working athlete. He’s a good kid.”
Marc, whose favorite subject is science, plans to study engineering at college next year. He also plays for Frankford’s tennis team in the spring, but his true love is soccer.
“I love to play. I want to move on and play well in college,” said Marc, 17. “I try to always do my best. I definitely want to make it to the playoffs.”
The Pioneers have come a long way on the pitch, especially when you consider that, just two seasons ago, the program was almost scrapped because there weren’t enough players to field a team. A full roster must have 12 athletes — 11 starters and one substitute. Only seven kids showed up at the start of the 2009 season.
That matter of numbers no longer is an issue.
Now, Frankford has a full roster of 19 players, including returning starters with varsity experience. Senior Eric Salguero and junior Mustafa Alghazzawi are spearheading the squad’s solid offense, with Marc holding down the defense.
The Pioneers also have a few rookies on the pitch, including three who have migrated from the Public League champion baseball team — Augusto Ortega, Omar Cruz and Hector Cerda.
“This is the first year that they ever played soccer,” explained Shelton. “They’re great athletes and they know what it’s like to be on a championship team. They bring that energy and hustle to the team.”
Frankford’s switch to the highly competitive A Division hasn’t been exactly smooth — they have four losses and no wins thus far — but, according to Shelton, the team is continuing to improve.
They suffered brutal losses at the hands of Abraham Lincoln, 6-2, and George Washington, 6-1, during the first week of the season. They’ve since battled Prep Charter in a 3-2 loss on Sept. 12 and then fell to defending Public League champion Bartram, 4-3, on Sept. 14.
“I would have loved to see them win this game, but just to see their charisma and see them hanging in there and working each and every game is great,” Shelton said after last week’s match against Bartram. “I am very happy with their performance. This is their first year in the A Division. We started off rough, but this is a tough team — Bartram won the championship last year — and we played them well.”
Frankford’s soccer program hasn’t seen a championship game since 2001, and it hasn’t claimed a title since 1996. The Pioneers dominated the Public League for most of the 1980s and ’90s but they have since slipped out of the spotlight.
In all, Frankford has 28 Public League championship crowns — including 10 that were won consecutively from 1986 to ’96. The Pioneers have claimed seven city championship titles as well, an exceptional feat considering that no city title games were played from 1980 to 2007.
Now they’re hoping to rebuild that tradition.
“We’re playing well. We’ve improved a lot since we started,” said Marc. “In the first few games, we weren’t very good. Now we’re working and getting better and better every day.” ••
Editor Melissa Yerkov can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org