Confusion, selfishness, and a lack of trust in fellow teammates.
All were factors of play for the boys’ soccer team at Revere High when the Patriots kicked off their season with a convincing 3-0 loss to Peabody.
It looked like more of the same for a squad that went 5-9-1 last fall, finishing second to last in the Northeastern Conference Large.
But Abdel Rhazi, in his first season as head coach, looked at that loss as an opportunity to grow.
“When we lost that game, [Rhazi] told us that that was the key to the tournament,” said junior captain Abel Alcantar. “It was kind of a bummer, but we took it, and knew we had to step our game up.”
To say they stepped it up would be an understatement.
After the season-opening loss, the Patriots went 11-0-3 in the NEC en route to the conference title.
When Rhazi, the program’s junior varsity coach from 2006-09, was hired in May, he saw a team that fought and could not seem to get along.
From experience, as an alumnus (2001-04), he knew that the issue had to be fixed.
“I’ve been telling them, I was a player at Revere High School for four years and we had the best players, but the only problem that we had was arguing with each other,” said Rhazi, a league all-star who never played in the postseason. “I said that will take them nowhere, and I think everyone gets the message now.”
Alcantar, a conference all-star midfielder, confirmed that “we weren’t really like a family last year, because every game we argued, and just about every game we lost.
“It’s way better now,” he said, “because instead of saying stuff behind people’s backs and causing trouble, we just say to each other’s faces how we feel and how we can improve, and that helps us be a better family.”
And the selfishness has dialed down as well.
“Last year we didn’t play as a team,” said Saad El Khiam, a senior all-star forward. “Everybody wanted to shine, and when everybody tries to shine, it’s not going to work. This year, some kids got greedy, but as the season went on, we realized that if we don’t play together, then we’re not going to make it anywhere.”
El Khiam paces the Patriots in goals (14), but Rhazi said he is one of the most selfless players on the pitch, and never showboats his talent.
“He plays so simple,” said the 29-year-old coach, who also works in the high school’s computer lab. “He doesn’t add anything to the play and is not selfish. He always passes the ball and if he has a chance to score, he won’t add anything to it; he’ll just put it inside the net.”
But the team’s success is more a reflection of its improved play at the defensive end.
While defending the attack, the back line features a right defender, left defender, sweeper, and two stoppers, for a 5-4-1 formation. But when Revere seizes possession, it transitions to a more traditional 4-4-2.
As a result, the Patriots have lowered their goals-against average from 2.1 a year ago to 1.0 this fall.
“It’s a good way to play,” said senior stopper Younes Hartout, a captain. “We’ve never done this defense with the two stoppers and the sweeper. I think it helps out a lot because you get extra help on each side.”
The three-year starter anchors a back line that features three freshman starters in front of junior goalie Jesus Landaverde, a first-year starter.
“I felt uncomfortable at first because I didn’t know everyone so I didn’t want to yell at anyone, but I soon became more confident,” said Landaverde, a Salvadoran whose Spanish was translated by Alcantar. “Now everything is working like a function in math because now I can yell at the defenders and tell them what to do, so they all became more confident in each other.”
The confidence is carrying over as the Patriots head into the state tournament for the first time since 2011. Rhazi, named the NEC’s Coach of the Year, has told his players to go into every match believing they are not the better team, as a strategy to avoid overconfidence.
“We didn’t expect him to say that, but it’s actually a good mind-set to have because if we’re not cocky then we’ll play a lot harder,” said Alcantar.
Added Hartout: “Revere’s always been the underdogs but that won’t stop us. I feel like people underestimate us, but when we get out on the field we give them answers.”
Awareness, selflessness, and faith in and love for their teammates: much different answers than displayed at the beginning of the fall.
Five teams to watch in the tourney
■ Central Catholic girls (17-0): To those facing the Crusaders in the postseason — good luck. Central outscored foes this fall 73-3, while the primary keeper, freshman Amanda Fay, only allowed one score. Coach Casey Grange and her girls enter the tournament hungry to avenge last year’s unexpected early playoff exit.
■ Masconomet boys (18-1-1): As prolific as the offense has been — four goals per match — the Chieftain defense has been even more impressive, allowing 0.4 goals per game in front of senior keeper Willie Stewart, a first-year starter.
■ Masconomet/Newburyport girls (13-0-5/15-0-2): It was no surprise that when the undefeated Cape Ann Kinney rivals met on Oct. 21, the match ended in a 0-0 draw. The Chieftains are averaging 4.6 goals per game behind senior captain Kaleigh White, while the Clippers bring incredible experience to the table, with 10 four-year varsity players.
■ North Andover boys (18-0): With 11 starting seniors, the Scarlet Knights have been unstoppable in Kyle Wood’s inaugural season as head coach. The program’s all-time leading goal-scorer, University of Massachusetts Lowell-bound Michael Skarbelis, leads the offensive attack.
■ Wilmington girls (16-1-1): Coach Sue Hendee had her most successful season in 26 years at the helm, Teams hosting Wilmington, beware: The Wildcats have gone 11-0-1 on visiting turf this fall.Taylor C. Snow can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter @taylorcsnow.