Vineyard Football Association season kicks off

World Cup enthusiasm at local venue.

MFC Menemsha FC player James Ostrow scores the second goal during the opening game of their season. — Photo by Michael Cummo

The Vineyard Football Assn. opened its 14th season Tuesday night with a doubleheader at Veteran’s Memorial Field in Vineyard Haven. The Menemsha Football Club (MFC) outlasted Sports Haven (Spo H) 2-1 in a tightly-played contest.

In the nightcap, a younger, faster Island Star (IS) squad trotted past Island Copper (IC), 5-0.

While a dozen fans in the stands watched and listened to a grueling U.S.-Belgium World Cup game (Belgium won 2-1 in extra time) on their iPhones, MFC and Spo H played a skillful chess match in the center of the pitch, using short passes, overlapping and probing for opportunities for a run at goal.

With less than minute left in the half, a MFC midfielder lofted a medium depth pass down the right side, collected by a wing and centered to Gabriel DeOliviera who put it home. The McBride brothers, Declan and Jackson, contributed to Spo H knotting the score at 1-1 early in the second half. After goalkeeper Jackson made two good stops on Martin Aranzabe and Nainoa Cooperrider, play flowed the other way and Declan scored in a scrum in front of the net. Martin Aranzabe scored the clincher for MFC on a laser from mid-range a minute later. The teams cat-and-moused the rest of the way with limited scoring chances.

The summer soccer league is coed and open to all ages, including high school age players. MFC is known as “the high school” team because its roster is comprised of current Martha’s Vineyard High School (MVRHS) players and members of the Island’s 2014 state champion Under-18 travel team. Current MVRHS players Ben Poole, Jason Lazes, and Elie Jordi play for MFC.

Spo H’s roster is dominated by experienced players in their early 20s and the matchup was a clinic on successful soccer play based on skill with both feet, good technique and positional play and zero “diving.”

In the nightcap, the venerable mostly 40-something IC squad took on a frisky, younger IS team that tested IC keeper Andrew Warlock early and often, taking a 2-0 lead into halftime on a header from Ethan Gunty and an open-netter by James Ostrow.

At the other end, IS goaltender Kyp Cooperrider was the loneliest man on the pitch as his team dominated time of possession in IC territory.

At halftime, a weary but unbowed Kristofer Rabasca of IC explained that summer games against young, fresh legs serves his team well. “This is good for us: they make us run the whole game,” he said. “When our over-40 league starts in the fall, we can run circles around our competitors,” he said. Certainly the Island’s over-40 squad has distinguished itself in recent years, including an undefeated regular season and a league championship,

That’s not to say IC does not compete hard. Play got chippy in the second half as IS built a 5-0 lead on goals by Gustavo Silva, John Oliviera, and Max Karakul and the dreaded red card (ejection) went to an IC defender after he enthusiastically dumped an IS player who had stripped him of the ball seconds earlier.

The league plays high-quality soccer, and fans of the game would enjoy the level of play. The best teams offer a clinic experience to youth soccer players. Matches are played on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights at Veterans Memorial Field at 5:30 and 6:45. Admission is free.

Coach Esteban Aranzabe comments

The Times caught up with Esteban Aranzabe, coach of the n Martha’s Vineyard United under-18 boys travel team on Tuesday night, two days after his record-setting squad captured the Massachusetts Tournament of Champions trophy in Lancaster in a five-game sweep.

Mr. Aranzabe was standing quietly on the sidelines watching several members of his team, including his son, Martin, prepare for a summer league match at Veteran Field in Vineyard Haven.

The sidelines were buzzing about the U-18 achievement. Andrew Warlock, longtime Island soccer maven, was impressed. “Not only did they win five games, they were unscored on,” he said. The Vineyard team outscored their competition, 13-0.

Mr. Aranzabe, who will take the reins as head coach of the successful MVRHS boy’s soccer team in the fall, was also impressed by his charges. They outscored opponents 71-5 in the regular season, including the Needham Invitational Tournament, where the Vineyarders outscored opponents 9-0 before falling to a team from Southbury, Conn., 1-0, in the championship match.

”Needham is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the country,” he said. “It draws teams from all over the Northeast and it’s become a showcase for college soccer program recruiters.”

How did Martha’s Vineyard United pull it off? “We play a system,” he said. “We’ve been coaching these kids for years, since they were 8 or 9 years old and they understand the system.  They trust it, because it works for them.”

A builder here on the Island, Mr. Aranzabe was born in Uruguay of Basque descent. He is now a U.S. citizen and a law school student. He has a broad view of soccer possibilities on the Island. “People need to open up to soccer more,” he said. “‘The Rock’ can compete anywhere. Look at this match: there are five or six nationalities — Asian, European, American, South America, the Caribbean — represented in this game tonight.”

Will he take the system to the high school with him? “The system will be going to the high school,” he said.