The Maidstone Market’s 7-on-7 men’s soccer team lost the first two games it played in this fall’s season, one to Tuxpan and one to Hamptons Arsenal, each by 1-0 scores, but when it came down to crunch time, the Market — unarguably the Wednesday evening league’s best team — ate those other teams’ dreams.
The semifinal matchup last week with Hamptons Arsenal went down to penalty kicks, however, and John Romero, Maidstone’s sponsor and coach, winced during a conversation at his place of business Monday morning as he recalled it. “They could have won it,” he said. Arsenal tied the score at 2-2 with a few seconds left in regulation, but Maidstone, following two scoreless overtime periods, prevailed 4-2 in penalty kicks.
Thus Maidstone met Tuxpan, Antonio Chavez’s entry, in the final at East Hampton’s Herrick Park on Nov. 30, though this time it was no contest as the Market cruised to a 3-0 victory.
Tuxpan had reached the final by besting Bateman Painting, the second seed, 5-4 in the other semifinal as Alberto Larios led the way with two goals. Juan Vasquez, Nerry Sanchez, and Reynaldo Yanes each had one.
It was the eighth time that the Market had won a 7-on-7 championship here, said Romero, whose team, in augumented form, has made a name for itself in the region, and who, himself, has done much to develop East Hampton’s young players.
One of his protégés, Mario Olaya, who recently capped a record-breaking career at East Hampton High School, leading Bonac to its first-ever county boys soccer championship, was among the celebrants following Maidstone Market’s Nov. 30 win at the park.
Olaya, Jefferson Ramirez, Ernesto Valverde, Brandon West, Cesar Correa, Nick West, Angel Garces, Nick Tulp, and Romero’s own sons Matthew and John have been among the local juniors who, in combination with their peers from Albertson, have represented Long Island in tournaments in Peru and in Romero’s native Colombia in the past several years.
“Down there,” he said with a laugh, “they call us ‘the Gringos.’ ” He added that Long Island’s juniors had acquitted themselves well in those South American tourneys and in ones played at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
“That’s the only way kids from here will get better,” he added, “by playing in tournaments up the Island and beyond. I’m not saying they’ll become pros, but they will get better, and — the most important thing — they’ll be able to get scholarships to colleges.”
Participation in organized sports, moreover, was “probably the only way to keep teenaged boys out of trouble,” said Romero, whose dream is to have “a club here for our youth one day if I can find the space.”
Back to the fall final, the champions’ big three, Diego Marles, Luis Correa, and Gehider Garcia, put the Market on the scoreboard in the opening minutes as Garcia, who was unmarked at the right side of Tuxpan’s goal, headed in a pass from Correa, who had, in turn, received the ball from Marles.
About midway through the 30-minute period, a 20-yard through pass from Marles to Correa put Maidstone up 2-0, and that was the score at the half, though Tuxpan, before the first half was over, narrowly missed twice — when Vasquez unleashed a wicked shot on goal that the Market’s keeper, Alex Meza, saved, and when Eduardo Larios rocketed a low free kick from 20 yards out that zipped inches wide of the right post. The shot was so hard that to some on the sidelines it appeared as if the ball might have whisked through a hole in the netting, but indeed further inspection showed there was none.
Maidstone defended the dark side goal — the one positioned nearer Pleasant Lane and the far parking lot — in the second half, but its defense, anchored by Marles, Gerber Garcia, and Darlin Veliz, among others, was so strong that Tuxpan’s forwards never came close.
Correa clinched the championship in the early going, kicking the ball into an empty cage following a blocked Tuxpan free kick that rebounded far up the field.
After the trophies had been handed out — Correa received one as the winner of the league’s Golden Boot award given to its high-scorer — and photos taken, Romero said that would be it for his team until a mid-February indoor tournament in Calverton given the fact that some key players — namely Marles, Gehider Garcia, Correa, and Gerber Garcia — would soon go to Colombia for a spell.
Most of the Market’s squad, said Romero, were from Colombia, with the exceptions of Antonio Padilla, who is from Mexico, Leonardo Garcia, who is from Brazil, Mark Hogg, who is from Jamaica, and Veliz, who is from Guatemala.
The 7-on-7 championship was the second one the team had won this fall. “We beat Center Moriches 5-3 to win the Riverhead league. We had lost a couple of games, and Center Moriches had been undefeated — and had given up only three goals all season — until we played them in the final.”
Maidstone Market, moreover, finished third in a semiprofessional league in Brentwood, “the toughest league we’ve played in, a league that had a lot of pros in it. . . . At first, they only scheduled four games for us. They wanted to see how we’d do. If we hadn’t done well in those first four games, they would have thrown us out, but we won 10 straight! We finished 13-4-2. We were a little tired in the playoffs, running back and forth between the leagues, but by that time, in Brentwood, they knew us.”
Fittingly, Romero received Brentwood’s coach of the year award.