By Tom Pedulla-
Unbelievable. How else to describe the magical ride enjoyed by Irvington’s Amanda Berry, Claire Friedlander, Kaitlyn Krieger, Keira Nyarady, and Sophia Rosenblatt?
They were part of the Bulldogs’ first Class B New York State girls’ soccer championship. Then they landed another huge prize as members of the Patriots FC under-18 team, returning from Orlando with the United States Youth Soccer national championship.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Krieger. “I couldn’t have written it any better if I wanted to.”
Perhaps Mike Friendlander, who founded the team more than a decade ago, was the only person who truly believed Patriots FC could someday win it all. “Sometimes you set a high goal and it seems impossible to reach it,” he said. “But if you don’t stretch the bar, you never know.”
Some members of Patriots FC first came together when they were six or seven years old. Perhaps it was hard to believe in Friedlander’s dream then — but he never lost sight of it.
“He always believed in us that we would get to a national championship and not a lot of people believed in him that he could make it happen,” said Krieger, a left wing. “But he did.”
Growth was painful. There were times when it seemed as if Patriots FC would never attain great heights. “In seventh, eighth and ninth grade, we took our lumps,” Friendlander recalled. “But it made us stronger and more prepared for these big games and these big moments.”
Friedlander estimated that the girls played more than 200 games in the last five years, venturing to California, Florida, Maryland and Virginia, among other states, to hone their skills. “My philosophy was to play as many games as possible against the best teams possible,” he said.
In addition to Friedlander, Krieger credited Coach Phil Bannister with turning into reality what once seemed unthinkable. “He was so determined. He always believed we could win a national championship,” Krieger said of Bannister, associate head coach of the men’s soccer program at Fordham University.
Patriots FC qualified for the national tournament in Orlando last summer but was unable to advance past the first round. It treated that as a learning experience and worked harder than before to compete in the blistering Orlando heat.
This time, the team was unstoppable in sweeping the five games it played and outscoring the opposition 13-1. Its tremendous run culminated in a 2-0 blanking of Middle Country, from Stony Brook, Long Island.
Krieger will never forget the title game. “We really came together that last game,” she said. “It showed all of the work we put in over the past years and the chemistry we have as a team.”
Patriots FC closed the season with a sterling 23-5 record. For many, this will be the final chapter of their remarkable story. Friedlander estimated that more than half of the team will be going on to college. He said he is “retiring” as president of the program and an assistant coach.
“It was the last time these girls are ever going to play together. It’s very emotional for the girls and the coaching staff and the parents because for seven or eight years we’ve been building up to this,” Friedlander said. “Our last game, our last memory, will always be a victorious one.”
Over time, the magnitude of what was accomplished will sink in. A state title followed by a national championship? Wow!
“I’m so excited,” Krieger said. “When I have kids one day, I’ll show them my medals and everything.”
And she will tell them that dreams can come true.
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