Now the real challenge begins for Luis Flores.
Coming off a week as the PSAL's most surprising success story, the jovial
Julia Richman boys soccer coach has the task of proving his team isn't a fluke,
that being the first Manhattan team in eight years to beat national power
Martin Luther King Jr. wasn't just happenstance.
"Hopefully we're headed on the right path," said Flores, whose squad handed
MLK a previously unthinkable 1-0 loss on Sept. 30 and leads the Manhattan A
division at 4-0-0.
"The players have already digested the victory," he said, "and they are
saying, 'We beat MLK, who says we can't make it to the finals?' Not putting the
other teams down, we have the talent and confidence to win the big games. We
have the chance to show what we're made of."
So far, there haven't been any letdowns. Two days after the landmark
victory, the Fearless Panthers, a 'B' powerhouse in 1998-99, pounded Hunter,
Monday's game with Art and Design was postponed because of field problems.
The squad, which just missed making the playoffs in 2001, was one of two
teams (Beacon was the other) in the conference last season to provide MLK with
any real competition.
Flores said that the players built upon last year's experience and have
matured beyond his expectations.
"They bought into my philosophy that the game should be played as simple as
possible," the third-year coach said. "That we have to be patient, keep
possession. Our chances will come as long as we have the ball."
That game plan worked perfectly for the Fearless Panthers against MLK.
Julia Richman, led by defender Artis Lazdins, midfielder Felix Martey and
forward Eddie Radoncic, wore down MLK until midfielder Saul Tepizila
capitalized on a fast break in the 77th minute to give the team the win.
"They won ... end of story," MLK coach Martin Jacobson said. "It has to
happen, and [Julia Richman] was the best team that day."
Flores knows the next time the teams play, which will be Oct. 25, will be a
bigger test. But his Fearless Panthers won't be intimidated.
"We've tried to stay humble," Flores said. "If we lose to MLK, it might
bring them back from cloud nine. But we're already on top, and they won't let
it go so easy. As eager as [MLK] wants to beat us, my guys want to make sure
what we've done is for real."
Fordham Prep forward Ricky Schramm rapidly isalready one of the best
players in the city and his coach believes he has more upside.
"He could be even better," coach Pete McNamara said of Schramm, a Newsday
All-City first-team player last season, who has paced the CHSAA with 15 goals
and eight assists this year.
"He hasn't reached his full potential yet," McNamara said. "But he's about
to break out."
The three-year starter, who led the Rams with 19 goals and 12 assists last
season, has turned the team into a CHSAA title contender - the team leads the
New York Diocese with a 6-1-1 record - and has attracted a slew of college
recruiters in the process.
"He's a little older, more mature and works hard to make himself better,"
McNamara said. "He's been part of the unknown players in this league [in
previous years]. It's good to finally see him compete with the best players in
CHSAA. He's not playing catch-up anymore."