Heartbreaking losses and frustrating ties piled up on the Mineola boys soccer team.
"Before you know it," coach Paul Pereira said, "we start out 0-3-1 [in league, 1-4-2 overall] and things are looking bleak."
The Mustangs carried that 0-3-1 record in Nassau ABC-III into a Sept. 25 match at Wheatley. Pereira said his team's playoff chances would have taken a profound hit with another loss, not only from a numbers standpoint but also because it could have shattered a confidence that already was shaken by late 1-0 losses to Locust Valley and West Hempstead.
Fast forward to Oct. 9, and after wins over Wheatley, Malverne/East Rockaway, Clarke and Friends Academy, the Mustangs are one win away from clinching a spot in the Nassau Class A playoffs with three games to go.
"That Wheatley game really turned things around for us," said Pereira, who has seen that opponent take over first place and improve to 7-2 after Thursday's win over Clarke.
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Pereira said his team, which features nine juniors, learned in the 2-1 win over Wheatley how to close out a game. In the losses to Locust Valley and West Hempstead, he said, they allowed their opponent to break a scoreless tie with six and seven minutes remaining, respectively.
"We had to persevere, which is what the other teams were doing against us," Pereira said. "Sometimes you have to defend a lead. That's what you have to do."
Junior midfielders Brandon Mendes and Luis Tinoco have been the stable pieces for Mineola. They each scored in the win over Wheatley, too. But the Mustangs got their big boost from Dimas Cabrera, a junior forward who has scored five goals in the last three matches.
His goal against Friends Academy led to a 1-0 win, the 147th victory of Pereira's career. That, Pereira said, makes him the winningest coach in the program's history.
Pereira did not mention anything about the feat until after the final whistle. His players have been so focused on winning for their sake. He did not want to distract them.
But there's no hiding what's at stake in Friday's game against second-place Carle Place: a playoff berth, the one that seemed nearly unattainable just two weeks ago.
"I never felt," Pereira said, "like they quit or gave up on each other or us."