One for the road: NE wins title for Feldman

Sam Feld­man last week won his second boys soc­cer cham­pi­on­ship at the school. He plans to re­tire at the end of the school year. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHO­TOS

In the mo­ments fol­low­ing last Wed­nes­day’s Pub­lic League soc­cer cham­pi­on­ship game, George Chavez was cry­ing his eyes out.

He couldn’t have been hap­pi­er.

For North­east High School’s boys’ soc­cer club, the third time was most def­in­itely the charm. After los­ing the cham­pi­on­ship games in 2010 and 2011, it was the Vik­ings’ time. And it tasted es­pe­cially sweet for this North­east team, win­ning on their home turf for re­tir­ing coach Sam Feld­man. 

To get there, they had to get past the only two teams they hadn’t beaten dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son; first up, a 3-0 vic­tory over de­fend­ing cham­pi­on George Wash­ing­ton in the semi­finals, then, a 1-0 cham­pi­on­ship clinch­er over Frank­lin Towne Charter, thanks to Andy Jean-Pierre’s goal (his 20th of the sea­son) with 14:05 left in reg­u­la­tion.

They also had to do it by un­ex­pec­tedly thrust­ing Chavez — a ju­ni­or cap­tain and feared goal-scorer — in­to the role of goal­tender after start­ing keep­er Kris Isaku in­jured his back in the team’s quarterfi­nals win over Samuel Fels. Chavez, who hadn’t played goalie all sea­son, re­spon­ded with two shutouts against two of the best teams in the Pub­lic League.

“Since I was a little kid, I don’t know why, but I was in­spired to play keep­er,” Chavez said through sniffles, his eyes still red with fresh tears. “When our keep­er went down, someone had to step up. I figured I didn’t have the ex­per­i­ence, but I was de­term­ined to take over that spot.”

Chavez’s team­mates marveled at his play between the posts in such a pres­sure-cook­er at­mo­sphere.

“I can’t say enough about Geor­gie,” said seni­or cap­tain Chris Black. “He nev­er played goalie be­fore, and he gets two shutouts against those two teams … there’s just no words I can say to jus­ti­fy this mo­ment.”

Ad­ded Jean-Pierre with a sly smile: “I didn’t ex­pect that. I didn’t know if he was good in goal, but he played so well.”

And as much as it meant the world for Chavez to win him­self a title after two failed at­tempts, it meant so much more to win one for the de­part­ing Feld­man, whose only oth­er soc­cer cham­pi­on­ship came in 2007 (Feld­man is also the school’s base­ball coach). 

“Oh my God, I’m so happy for him,” Chavez said. “I can’t wait to get to the lock­er room and give him a big hug. He brought us here. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be here right now.”

Feld­man, in typ­ic­al fash­ion, didn’t want the mo­ment to be about him. He has al­ways main­tained that coach­ing good kids that are fun to be around is all he cares about, not the cham­pi­on­ships and in­di­vidu­al ac­col­ades. But now, on this day, he could have both, hav­ing won it all with one of the fa­vor­ite groups he’s ever had the pleas­ure of coach­ing.

“You know, I’ve not won it a lot of times, in soc­cer and base­ball, so this one’s a re­lief,” he said. “I felt very good about this one. Most of them have been here twice be­fore, so they wer­en’t a deer in head­lights. They’re vet­er­ans, and they de­livered.”

The win earned the Vik­ings the right to stay to­geth­er as a team for a few more days, and even though they lost 4-0 to Cath­ol­ic League champ La Salle in Fri­day’s Dis­trict 12 city cham­pi­on­ship game, that’s not what this North­east team will re­mem­ber about this spe­cial sea­son.

“When you win a cham­pi­on­ship, the team re­mem­bers each oth­er,” Black said. “That’s def­in­itely true, no doubt. These guys will re­mem­ber each oth­er forever.”

In the end, noth­ing could slow down a Vik­ings team that was clearly on a mis­sion from the mo­ment the play­offs star­ted. Not only did they lose Isaku in net, but North­east also played the title game without start­ing sweep­er Matt Fein­stein (who Feld­man called “the team’s best de­fend­er, the guy who con­trols it all back there”), who was out sick with mono­nuc­leosis. Just as Chavez did in net, seni­or Tyler Gorm­ley shif­ted to a new po­s­i­tion and per­formed ad­mir­ably. 

Bench play­ers, who hadn’t seen sig­ni­fic­ant play­ing time all sea­son, were sud­denly thrown in­to start­ing roles. Just as they had all sea­son, North­east held strong.

“I know there’s the city cham­pi­on­ship and state tour­na­ment and all that, but this right here is what you play for,” Black said. “It doesn’t get much big­ger than this.”

And al­though they’re cham­pi­ons, North­east’s ride doesn’t end just yet.

Feld­man spoke of a show­case tour­na­ment on Thanks­giv­ing week­end for high school seni­ors look­ing to gain the at­ten­tion of scouts at the next level.

As Feld­man poin­ted out, “We’re a seni­or-heavy team, so we have to try to get some of these guys in­to col­lege. It doesn’t end now.”

And then there’s the team’s an­nu­al end-of-sea­son pizza party, which will be un­like any Feld­man has ex­per­i­enced be­fore.

“Well, for starters, it’s my last one,” he said. “And it’s cel­eb­rat­ing a cham­pi­on­ship team, so it won’t be just any pizza party. I’ll make sure to empty my soc­cer ac­count for this team.”

In the end, this was a happy story with a happy end­ing. It doesn’t al­ways work out that way, but this time it did, and every single mem­ber of the North­east soc­cer fam­ily was as elated as can be.

“All the hard work, and now we’ve got the cham­pi­on­ship,” Chavez said. “It means a lot, it really does. It shows the hard work really did pay off. I’m just happy, man.” ••

For ex­ten­ded play­off soc­cer cov­er­age and to read about how the Arch­bish­op Ry­an and Frank­lin Towne girls teams be­came cham­pi­ons, vis­it

Sports ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­

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