Within the first hour of practice this spring, Coach Tony Cardoso noticed there was something different about his Valeo FC Boston soccer team – a new vibe had settled over the team, one that has taken them on a winning ride through regional qualifying tournaments and into the US Club Soccer national tournament.
This week, the exceptional Boston-based team of 15 year olds, which features eight players from Dorchester and Mattapan and is the first and only club soccer team from the city to qualify for a national tournament, has been playing in Commerce City, Colorado, against the best teams in the nation as part of the National Premier League’s National Cup Finals.
But positive vibes alone don’t win soccer games. The Valeos lost their first two games, 1-4 on Sunday against Dallas’s DKSC Jimenez Club, and 0-4 on Monday against California Rush Soccer Club. They played the Tulsa Sheffield Club late on Tuesday and fought hard but lost 2-0. Even so, the scoring differential after the first two losses basically meant that the team had been eliminated from title play earlier in the week. The boys were in high spirits, team leaders said, and Coach Cardoso and his charges said it had been a great experience and something to build off of next year.
Despite all that, the boys, the coach, his supporting staff, parents and friends have experienced a season to remember long after the echoes of the cheers have faded away.
Tony Cardoso has been coaching youth soccer for 25 years, and the Valeo FC Boston team for many years. Many of this year’s players have been playing for him since they were 5 years old, and competing since fourth grade.
“The previous seasons have been up and down with this team,” the coach said. “For some reason in the beginning of the season, I saw a lot of maturity in the boys that wasn’t there before. From the first practice you could see it. They started a text group on their phones and that was a thing that really brought this team together. The commitment of the players and the parents is what got us to the national tournament.”
Cardoso’s basic encouragement at every game was telling the boys that the sky is the limit this season. “It’s a team from the inner city and they aren’t expected to get this far,” he said in an interview with the Reporter.
Club soccer is one of the more competitive routes for young soccer players to take, with teams made up of a conglomeration of players from several neighborhoods who try out to make the team. Unlike a town team or a local youth soccer league, most members the club teams are of the highest caliber and play around the region. The squads are also dominated by well-resourced suburban teams and elite private school players.
All of which is given as a reason why no other Boston club team has ever made it to the nationals, and why the story of Valeo FC Boston is a testament to young men really wanting to succeed and relying on solid teamwork to make it happen.
“This year we had a bigger goal, and we have all been playing together a long time,” said Zack Sealy, an incoming Neighborhood House Charter School (NHCS) tenth grader who lives on Mattapan’s Walk Hill Street. “The goal was to make it to New Jersey [the regional tournament]. Well, we made it to New Jersey and won it and now we’re on to the nationals…I think everybody was just hungry and wanted to make it somewhere and wanted to make this a season to remember.”
Goalie Emilio Moriarty, of Dorchester, started his career with Dorchester Youth Soccer, and will be playing that position for the John D. O’Bryant High School varsity team in the fall. He has spent the last four spring seasons with Valeo FC Boston and says that it has been an incredible experience.
“I think this season has been very different,” he said. “In fact, everyone on the team has matured as players and as people and with so many of us playing together so long, it has helped us to know each other’s game and to communicate well on the field…Every player on the team is a key player and is significant to the team – everyone.”
One of the key moments in their march from the state level to last month’s regional tournament in New Jersey occurred in the championship game against a team from Maryland. The game was nip and tuck, and Maryland had tied it late in the game at 2-2. Coach Cardoso trusted his players and decided not to play for overtime with only minutes remaining.
“Either we were going to win or lose in regulation time,” he said. He changed up the lineup, and in a fast break, Zack Sealy, his striker, knocked the ball at the Maryland goalie, who rejected it, but with 30 seconds left, they had the opportunity for a corner kick. That’s when magic emerged in the form of Sealy’s left foot.
“So, it curved in and went off a few people and deflected to me,” said Sealy. “I hit it solid with my left foot into the net, down in the corner, and that was it. I was aware it was the last few seconds of the game, and I couldn’t believe we did it. There were no penalties and no overtime. Then it set in that we had just won the championship.”
Cardoso said that as the referees confirmed the goal and the last few seconds ticked off the clock, everyone went wild. Parents ran from the stands, players ran to their parents; it was a moment to fully enjoy.
That sense of good feelings carried forward as the team traveled to Colorado last week and began play in the week-long tournament on Sunday. The first game was a 4-1 setback, but the team played a tough second half that they hoped gave them momentum for the week’s contests. It was a hope unfulfilled with the disappointing loss to the California Rush team on Tuesday.
“When you come to a tournament like this you don’t know the other teams and you only get to know them when you play them,” said Moriarty. “So, it’s about getting comfortable with them on the field and making sure they aren’t able to get comfortable with us.”
Despite the outcome, Cardoso said this team will always hold a memorable place in his coaching career – and not just for what they’ve done on the pitch.
“They are special because of the bond we have as a team and as a family – that includes the parents and the players,” he said. “It’s special because I’ve known these kids so long. I know which ones to push and who needs encouragement. I know when a kid has had a bad day. I can talk to any of them, and they’re open to having a conversation. It’s special because of that confidence we’ve built with each other. That’s memorable.”
Players on the Valeo FC Boston team from Dorchester and Mattapan include Elvis Mejia, Edisson Claimond, Derek DeSantis, Aodhan Keane, Emilio Moriarty, Zack Sealy, Jivan Tai-Dawson, and Jason Cardoso.