Class A state semifinal
Port Chester (18-1-2) vs. Fowler (19-1)
When: Saturday, 11 a.m.
Where: Faller Field at Middletown High School
Key players: Port Chester — Steven Hernandez, Fr., F; Jose Gonzalez, Sr., GK; Preston Higgins, Sr., MF; Bryan Suertegaray, Sr., D; Alexis Valdovinos, Sr., D; William Ribiero, Sr., MF. Fowler — Abdulkareem Abdulkareem, Jr., F; Abdullah Abdulkareem, Fr., GK; Vincent Ndabaruta, Sr., MF; Jean-Paul Mboyo, Soph., F; Yahiya Donzo, Jr., D.
Outlook: Both of these teams come in relying heavily on freshmen. For the Rams, that would be Hernandez, who has scored the go-ahead goal in each of Port Chester’s five playoff wins. For the Falcons, that would be Abdullah Abdulkareem, who has been tremendous in goal. Abdulkareem’s older brother, Abdulkareem Abdulkareem, leads the team in goals with 22, including the tying goal in Fowler’s 2-1 comeback win over Troy Catholic in the regional final. Whichever team can bottle up its opponent’s top striker more effectively will have a decided edge.
“We’re going to try to shut him down,” Suertegaray said. “We’ve always been able to with Byram Hills and guys like (Jon) Berry; we try to adjust our defense to their top striker.”
The Rams made a defensive adjustment in their regional final against Maine-Endwell, moving Suertegaray from stopper to sweeper. They pitched a shutout in that game, and are hoping for similar results on Saturday.
“I think it worked out well,” Suertegaray said. “Josiah (Marin) is really quick as the stopper – he’s probably a little faster than me – so with him marking the top striker, I was able to cover for him in the back. I’m good at thinking and reading the play, and that helps when you’re playing sweeper.”
While coach John Cafaldo said that he hasn’t had a chance to see Fowler play (noting he felt more comfortable against Maine-Endwell because he was able to scout them in the regional semis), everything that I’ve heard about the Falcons is that they play a similar style to Port Chester – fast, and creative. Fowler is a very diverse group, with players on the roster from eight different countries, including Congo, Burma, Thailand, Iraq, Yemen, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Kenya. The Section 3 champs won a section title in shocking fashion, advancing on PKs against favorite Christian Brothers Academy. This sounds like a unique group that is coming together at the right time.
One benefit that the Rams should have is familiarity with one another. Neither team has played on this stage before, but as I wrote about last night, most of the Port Chester players have been playing together since a young age. Most of the Fowler players speak different languages and have only known each other for a few years. At this stage, every little advantage counts.
Of course, the common theme for the Rams at practice on Thursday was stepping up to take some of the pressure off of their super freshman. If they want to win a state title, they will almost certainly need scoring to come from more than just Hernandez.
“We need somebody to step up this weekend – it can’t always be Steve,” Gonzalez said. “Everybody knows who he is now pretty much everywhere, so they’re going to be man-marking him, no doubt.”
Next up: Winner plays the Williamsville East (Section 6)/Jericho (Section 8) winner Sunday, 10:30 a.m.