Martha’s Vineyard Under-18 team claims state soccer crown

It was an emotional game for many of the team members who now go off to college.

MV United, led by Ben Poole, left, and Lee Faraca, were welcomed home as state champions Sunday. – Photo by Randi Baird

On Sunday, the Martha’s Vineyard Under-18 Boys soccer team beat Brookline 2-0 to clinch the state championship, adding to its résumé of three state championships in the past four years. The tournament was not only a measure of success for the Island team, but also an emotional one, as it was the last time many members of this team will represent Martha’s Vineyard.

MV United played its first game Friday afternoon against Quabbin. “Winning this first game is important,” said Coach Matt Poole in a pregame speech. “It will set the tempo for the entire tournament.”

Once the game began, the Vineyard team attempted to find its rhythm. And when they did they were unstoppable, though it took some time; after scoring only one goal in the first half, the boys controlled the game, passing around opponents with ease and exploding for five goals in the second half: one by Jason Lages, three by Colin Cameron, and the final by Silas Berlin. The three whistles blew, and the game ended in a 6-0 Vineyard victory.

Saturday was a similar storyline, with the Vineyard overpowering Lynn 4-0. On that day the team wasted no time finding its mojo. Yannick Gonsalves scored in the first minute on a corner kick from Jason Lages, who netted a hat trick of his own in the first half alone.

In the game that followed, Wilmington, the team that lost to the same Vineyard squad in the championship the previous year, came out with a vengeance, and proved to be a much more formidable opponent. The Vineyarders did not find the net until 10 minutes remained in the game, again on a Jason Lages goal. Colin Cameron sealed the victory a few minutes later on a pass from Jason Lages.

Early Sunday morning, the Vineyard faced wildcard Ludlow in the semifinal, a team that had beaten them five years prior in penalty kicks. The pouring rain and 55° temperature did not faze the players as they continued their dominance. Elie Jordi had a shot from way out that hit the crossbar and bounced across the line, putting the Vineyard on top. Brandon Dwane scored in the second half, ensuring a trip to the championship that ended with the victory over Brookline.

‘Win this for your Island!’

Much of the team’s success can be found in its strong coaching staff. Coach Esteban Aranzabe was born and raised in Uruguay. In March of 2003, he immigrated to the U.S and decided to live on Martha’s Vineyard. Esteban brought many things with him when he arrived; most apparent was his passion for the game of soccer. Soon after settling into the closely knit fabric of the Island community, he began coaching soccer. Ten years ago he began coaching the U18 team along with Matt Poole.

In the past 10 years, the team has qualified for the Massachusetts Tournament of Champions (M.T.O.C.) seven times, and has won the tournament four times. In the past two M.T.O.C.s alone, the Vineyard scored 32 goals and gave up zero.

Esteban is a man of passion. His love for soccer is infectious. He created a bond among his team members and with him. He understands each player’s strengths and weaknesses. He insists his players always strive for greatness — nothing is easy.

Going into the tournament, the Vineyard team struggled with injuries, rostering 13 players, which left only two substitutions. Nevertheless, Esteban’s only response was,“We came here to win.”

Esteban gave his last pregame speech as we prepared for the final against Brookline. “Win this for your Island! Win this for those who are here and those that are looking down on us! I have taught you all I know. Now win!”

This was the last time our team members, many of whom had played together for the past 10 years, would wear our iconic purple and black jerseys. We played just like we had all weekend long — simply.

The Vineyard began with high intensity, pressuring the ball in Brookline’s half. Vineyard defenseman Tim Roberts went forward to find a header, resulting in an early 1-0 lead. Soon after, Brandon Dwane was able to add another goal, assisted by Jason Lages. The Vineyard expertly held off Brookline attacks through the second half. The three whistles blew, and that was it. State champions once again. While we represented our Island colors on our jerseys, we fought and won the championship for Esteban. He is the only reason the team has been this successful. For all the sacrifices he has made, he deserved a state championship.

I have never met a man with such love for his players. “He is easily the best coach you could ever have or ever want. I want to thank him for all he has taught me on and off the field,” said defender Alex Gordon-Beck. “I want to thank Esteban for everything he has done for Martha’s Vineyard United soccer and our team.”
Eli Jordi is a former Times intern, a U-18 team member, and graduate of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School class of 2015.