After winning their second straight county championship, North Andover’s Division One boys U12 soccer team, the Red Fury, returned to the Mass Tournament of Champions (MTOC) with aspirations of improving over their 2011 MTOC performance.
The Red Fury’s return engagement began on Friday, June 22 in the preliminary round against the South Shore Champion, Braintree. After battling for position in the first 10 minutes, the Red Fury broke through with a goal from Austin Ward to put them up 1-0. Ward netted his second goal off an assist from Connor Willis and Luke Disalvo to put the Red Fury up 2-0 at the half. As the second half began the Red Fury continued their onslaught in the face of physical play from the Braintree side with goals from Disalvo and Ward. The game ended 4-0, with goalie Sam Naftal recording his first of three tournament shutouts. As usual, Naftal was aided by the Red Fury’s stalwart defense led by Bassel Elbetanony, Dan Packard, Michael Sullivan, Andy Pelletier and Timothy Liu.
The Red Fury’s next opponent was the Berkshire County champion, Lenox Gold. The score remained tied 0-0 until the last 10 minutes when the Red Fury pushed through 4 goals to win the game 4-1. Goals were scored by Austin Ward (2), Connor Willis, assisted by Matty Waterman, and David Sciaudone. Pioneer Valley’s champion, Ludlow, was the Red Fury’s next victim, falling 1-0 behind some great goaltending by Matt Shea, and a goal by Sam Naftal. Nick Coutracos assisted the goal with a nifty pass to Naftal.
With the victory, the Red Fury advanced through pool play as an undefeated contender to the medal round, playing against Fall River, the Bristol County champs. In a see-saw battle with both sides each narrowly missing on some great scoring opportunities, the game was tied 0-0 and looked like it was heading to overtime. With barely 5 minutes remaining, Ward netted his 6th goal of the tournament to put the Red Fury up to stay 1-0. Naftal once again came up big in net with some amazing saves to stymie Fall River’s opportunities. Sciaudone and Reuben Philip played solid defense against Fall River’s top scorer to shut him down. It was off to the finals for the indomitable Red Fury.
The State Championship game pitted the Red Fury against a large and ferocious Newton opponent. The Red Fury came out blazing, hitting the post early on, and putting the pressure on a Newton team that had waltzed through the tournament until that point. Despite the numerous scoring opportunities, the teams went into the half tied 0-0. The second half saw the tides turn, as Newton took it to the Fury and their defense. Naftal repeatedly turned away shot after shot, making saves that left the spectators speechless. At the 22nd minute mark Newton’s striker broke in alone and placed a perfect shot into the corner of the net, just out of reach for the diving Naftal.
The last 5 minutes saw the Red Fury put on a relentless offensive assault in an effort to net the equalizer, but to no avail. The game ended 1-0, and the Red Fury’s hopes of a state title were dashed. The game was one for the ages, and the Red Fury is confident they will be back next year to capture the title that has eluded them to date.