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Patriots FC: In It to Win It at the National Level

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July 14, 2022

By Tom Pedulla–

Irvington’s Michael Friedlander began nurturing a dream 11 years ago. He would start a girls’ youth soccer program at the grassroots level and gradually build it into a national contender.

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When he shared that vision with others who possessed more experience in the sport, they shook their heads in belief. Not happening. Cannot be done.

This is to say it can be done.

Patriots FC, built around a nucleus of players from Irvington and nearby towns, is winging its way to Orlando to begin competing on July 19 for the United States Youth Soccer national championship.

The 21-member team, comprised of 15- and 16-year-olds, is vying for its first national title after rattling off five consecutive victories to win the East regional tournament in West Virginia. Players are excited and optimistic that they can accomplish what once sounded impossible.

“Everyone there is a good team and everyone deserves to be there,” said striker Leah Rifas of Ardsley. “I think the good thing about our team is every single one of us is a great soccer player and every single one of us is playing for the team. That’s what will help us win the national title.”

Continuity may be the program’s greatest asset. “We’ve had the same nucleus since they were six,” said Friedlander. “It’s kind of been a homegrown team focusing on player development and not adding superstars from all over the place.”

Ever-changing rosters can be among the constants in youth sports as athletes and their families shop for what they perceive as better opportunities and better coaches who might help them land coveted college scholarships. Not so for the Patriots. Rifas, for instance, has been part of the Patriots since she was 10. Other long-time mainstays are Amanda Berry, Claire Friedlander, Kaitlyn Krieger, Keira Nyarady and Sofia Rosenblatt.

 “On a personal note, it’s very gratifying that the girls continued to stay together. They have been loyal to the club and continued to work hard and improve,” said the big-thinking Friedlander. “It’s been an amazing ride.”

Friedlander made his mark in the Irvington community at an early age. He played point guard for some exceptional basketball teams at the high school, providing intensity and direction. He has brought those same qualities to Patriots FC as the team’s founder.

Trophies for all? Being an also-ran is okay? Friedlander is not built that way.  “I want it to be fun, obviously, but at an early age I want to put the proper seeds in their head that we want to compete hard and try to win,” he said.

One element to winning is developing a can-do attitude. Patriots FC, skillfully coached by Phil Bannister, certainly has that. “As the years went by, you could see a change in our competitiveness. It wasn’t just for fun anymore,” Rifas said. “It was because we love the game, we play for each other and we love winning.”

It may actually help that Patriots FC lacks a superstar. Any offensive player might break through at any time. Everyone must be regarded as dangerous. “We all work well together and we’re always there for each other and we boost each other up,” said Nyarady, a staunch defender.

If one girl falters, a teammate is there for support. “It’s more of a family than it is a soccer team,” said Friedlander. “We have a great culture.”

Teammates help one another deal with off-field issues as well. Their bonds are unbreakable, another reflection of the unusual amount of time they have been together. “We’ve all come together as a family,” Nyarady said, “and we’re there for each other through absolutely everything.”

Hopes are high to either win it all in Orlando or, failing that, to produce a strong result. “We’re very healthy. We’re competing at our best level right now. We’re going there with hopes of winning a national championship,” said Friedlander, knowing he already has defied the naysayers.

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