Drawn from the globe, growing up in Medford
In an immigrant city, a soccer team fights off threat and bonds together
MEDFORD - After saving their coach’s job during the summer, the Medford High boys’ soccer team charged into the season, dreaming of winning the state’s Division 1 crown.
The Mustangs’ quest ended all too soon on a crisp fall morning when Medford lost to Masconomet in the North semifinals, 1-0, on a penalty kick in double overtime.
“We were shocked,’’ said Jonathan Pires, 16, a junior captain. “I really do believe we are the best team in the state.’’
With hustle and heart, the Mustangs fought for every ball. It was a season of growing up for the team of 19 teens, whose families come from nine foreign countries.
Even before the first practice, senior captains John Dumbuya, Manny Gonzalez, and Gilbert Simas, along with Pires, led a public battle to reinstate coach Mike Petrides, who they felt was unfairly dismissed by Medford High headmaster Paul H. Krueger. At City Council and School Committee meetings, they challenged Krueger to explain his decision.
“We just wanted to be heard,’’ said Gonzalez, 17, a defender who missed the playoffs with a knee injury. “Mustang soccer isn’t just a normal soccer team. It’s a brotherhood. Coach is like our father.’’
Their voices helped persuade Krueger, who could not be reached for comment for this story, to reinstate Petrides for a fifth season as head coach. Their victory at City Hall, announced at a press conference in the mayor’s office, bonded the team in a special way.
“The team didn’t begin in September. It began in July, when we started debating Dr. Krueger,’’ said Dumbuya, 18, a senior forward who scored both goals against Lincoln-Sudbury in a 2-1 tournament upset. “That’s when this team came together.’’
“The whole thing that happened at City Hall happened for a reason,’’ said Pires. “And the reason was, it made us think about who we really are, and what we believe in. It brought us together as a team.’’
Medford School Superintendent Roy Belson gives the Mustangs high marks for their resilience.
“They did great,” he said. “This was an unusual year. They had some controversy around their coach. They had a stretch where they lost three games in a row. . . . But they pulled it all together.’’
“They’ve learned that most things in life are done by people working together.”
Players hail from immigrant families who made their way to Medford from Cape Verde, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Greece, Haiti, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Sierra Leone, and Tibet.
But Mustang soccer is their common passion.
“Of the four years I’ve been here, this team overall was my favorite,’’ said Simas, 17, a senior defender whose parents came from Portugal. “I feel like I have a connection with everyone. Everyone actually cared about the team and about our sport.’’
Medford High has a long and storied soccer tradition. The school was one of the first locally to field a team when it was introduced in the 1940s by Allyn “Bud’’ Stillman, a longtime Medford High teacher and coach who came to the school from Western Massachusetts.
“Not a lot of [public] schools had a team back then, so Medford would play prep schools and sailors from visiting ships in Charlestown,” Belson said. “At the time, it was played more in Central and Western Massachusetts. Medford was an immigrant town. It caught on here.”
Belson was a member of the 1963 Mustang team that won the Eastern Massachusetts championship. The team played in the first-ever state championship game, which it lost to Ludlow 4-0. “They had a very good team,” Belson said, the memory still clear. “Medford soccer is a great tradition. It’s always been a great sport for the school and community.”
Some current Mustangs have their own soccer lineage. Dumbuya’s father, also named John, was a member of the Sierra Leone national team and played professionally in France, where his son was born.
“I want to play in college,’’ said the younger Dumbuya, who hopes to study sports management. “I would love to make it’’ to Major League Soccer.
Erik Baptiste, a sophomore forward, is the grandson of a former pro player in Portugal. “Soccer is in our blood,’’ said his mother, Martha, whose father played in her homeland.
Like other parents, Baptiste is proud of the Mustangs’ accomplishments on and off the field. “Coach Petrides is a figure they all look up to,’’ she said. “I think they were right to stand up for him.’’
Wanda Gonzalez admires her son Manny’s commitment to his coach and team. “Everything that happened over the summer gave him a lot of knowledge about how to make change, and how the government works,’’ said Gonzalez, a native of Puerto Rico, during halftime of the Chelmsford game.
Mike Petrides said he saw his teen charges mature over the 12-week season. “Absolutely, these kids grew from that whole experience at City Hall,’’ said Petrides, 51, who has coached at Medford High for 12 seasons, the first seven as an assistant. “I saw it in the way they conducted themselves in school, with each other at practices, and games.’’
They pumped each other up, blasting “The Final Countdown’’ in the locker room before games. They chanted “We are the Mustangs, the mighty mighty Mustangs,’’ on bus rides home after a win.
They ate breakfast together before weekend practices, and team dinners at the Petrides family home. “I cooked nine pounds of pasta,’’ Marie Petrides, the coach’s wife, said smiling as she recalled the menu for the Chelmsford game. “There was not a speck left. . . . It’s like they’re all my sons.’’
Players also learned to take their sometimes gruff coach in stride, too.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, settle down,’’ Petrides told his jittery players during a timeout in the first 10 minutes of the Chelmsford tournament game. “We have to play our game. We got a nice ticket to the playoffs. Make it count!’’
Medford pulled out a 1-0 win, but the celebration was muted. After a brief jump on junior goalie Bryan Peguero, the team lined up to shake hands with the disappointed Chelmsford players.
“Coach taught us that we don’t celebrate on anyone else,’’ Gonzalez said. “It’s just the classy thing to do.’’
More than champions, Petrides said he wants his players to grow up to be good men. “I tell them, ‘Education and family first, then soccer,’ ’’ he said, during the spirited bus ride home from Chelmsford. “That’s what it means to be a Mustang.’’
Respect for tradition is important, too.
When former player Samuel Goncalves, 23, died last month from cancer, the team attended his wake on senior day, which also included the last home game of the year. “There were probably 50 players there, past and present,’’ Petrides said, his eyes moist with tears. “Some of the kids didn’t know him, but they did it out of respect for the soccer program.’’
Goncalves, who played on the 2003 Mustang team that lost the state championship game, was never far from the team’s thoughts. “Sammy is our angel,’’ Marie Petrides said during the Lincoln-Sudbury game. “He’s watching over us.’’