LYNN — The last time a Newburyport boys soccer team played in the Division 3 North semifinals, all of this year’s players were still safely ensconced in elementary school.
That is, before Saturday afternoon. This year’s 10th-seeded Clippers (11-7-2) defied the odds as long as they could at Manning Field, ending their season thanks to a trio of goals from Watertown junior Vardan Yeghiyan that put the sixth-seeded Red Raiders on top, 3-0.
“It’s a tough way to end the season,” said Clippers senior Zaid Eideh. “We played our hearts out right down to the end. We shouldn’t take this as a negative. We came here, we did what everybody thought we couldn’t do. We disproved the doubters. We played with a chip on our shoulder, and I think it was one of the best years (for the team) in a long time.”
The Clippers were the better team for the first 20 minutes of play, but Watertown (13-2-6) was merely lying in wait as Yeghiyan found himself in a breakaway after a free kick against Clippers goalkeeper Matt Canning, and Yeghiyan won up high to put the Raiders on the board.
Eight minutes later, Yeghiyan drew a penalty kick and beat Canning again to put the Raiders up 2-0 at the half. The Clippers were in an uphill battle as Yeghiyan completed his hat trick with 13 minutes left in the second half for the 3-0 final.
“The first half, we outplayed them, then we were down 2-0,” said Clippers coach Shawn Bleau. “Soccer is a weird sport like that. That’s a tough hold to break, and I think we got tired trying to get it back. We tried to get some subs in to create a little energy. But at that point, they had a flow going.”
“I just told (the team) they should be proud of their season, and I’m proud of them,” continued Bleau. “It shows the character of our team, right down to the end, we almost scored a goal with two seconds left. That’s the kind of heart we have and that’s what got us to that point. I appreciate the seniors for setting that example for this team.”
One of the those seniors, defender and co-captain Alex Salah, reflected on his high school career after the tough loss.
“I feel pretty good, actually,” said Salah. “We did better than anyone said we would at the beginning of the season. We went farther than we hoped so I can’t complain about that. I think we played out hearts out the entire game. We almost scored in the last second and played that way the entire season, with intensity and as a team.”
For fellow senior co-captain and all-league midfielder Jordy Steelman, who was unable to play varsity in his freshman year because he needed to gain some height, the past three seasons have proven him to be larger than life both with his play and his leadership, effortlessly moving the ball wherever he wanted it to go and pulling his team together when they needed it.
Looking over that team for the last time, Steelman took a moment to reflect on a career in Newburyport soccer that started when he was 4 years old.
“I can’t believe it’s over right now,” said Steelman. “It (stinks) but I don’t think anyone would think we would make it this far. We were the only ones who thought we could and we proved that to everyone. I really don’t feel it right now, but soon I’ll be able to reflect on it, and it was probably the best part of my high school career.”