Survive and advance. Come playoff time in any sport, it’s a mantra that each and every coach preaches and believes in. It doesn’t matter how successful the regular season was, one slip up in the postseason could mean the end of the line for a team.
Valley Stream North, the co-champion of Conference A-VII, which was hosting a playoff game for the first time is program history, had a tough opponent in No. 12 Garden City, but the Spartans found a way to hold off the Trojans and advance to the round of eight.
Junior Juan Rivera’s goal with exactly 20 minutes remaining in the match gave No. 5 North (11-3-1) a 1-0 victory over Garden City (5-5-5) in the opening round of the Nassau Class A playoffs last Friday. Senior keeper Pio Bonfitto had 10 saves to lead the Spartans to their eighth shutout.
Spartans coach Dave Aguado knew advancing wouldn’t be easy. “Garden City isn’t a typical 12 seed,” Aguado said. “They physically manhandled us, and rarely had a bad touch. We knew they would be strong, and that they had played in a tough conference. Whenever you play Garden City, in any sport, you know you’re facing a quality team.”
Neither team had a slew of scoring chances in the opening, but Garden City clearly had the better of the play. To make matters worse, the Spartans suffered a blow when senior Lerthon Theuma suffered an injury that would keep him on the sideline in the second half.
North came out flying in the second half. Sophomore Christian Cruz, who replaced Theuma at stopper, stepped in and did a tremendous job. Senior fullback Rich Vergara, senior sweeper Joe Cafaro, and eighth-grader Evan Peters all were sterling on defense for the Spartans.
After Rivera found the back of the net off a free kick from 25 feet out, Garden City put significant pressure on Bonfitto and the North backline. Bonfitto made four saves in the waning moments as the Trojans tried to net the equalizer. Seniors Demesvar Destin and Adley Voltaire, and junior Roody Derineau had solid efforts for North.
Aguado thought experience played a factor in the win. “The seniors really took on leadership role this season, and it showed in this game,” Aguado said. “We lost in the second round, last season, and these guys want more.”
The Spartans will face No. 4 Hewlett for the right to play in the semifinals. North shutout the Bulldogs in the opening round of the 2011 playoffs. Hewlett, the Conference A-V co-champions, knocked off Clarke 2-1 in the first round.
Aguado expects a tough game. “We have to focus on winning the 50/50 balls and take advantage of any opportunities we get,” Aguado said. “Hewlett is similar to Garden City. They’re strong and don’t give you much, and, of course, they will have revenge from last year on their minds.”