The Pioneers varsity soccer team couldn’t have picked a hotter day–92 degrees in the shade–to practice, but the players were working just as hard as any other day. That’s because they know they have to if they want to be state champs.
It’s a lofty goal, but with the addition of first-year coach Aaron Pfeil, they just might have the potential, experience and talent to do so.
Pfeil coached in Royal Oak for four years and has plenty of experience when facing the Oakland Athletic Association, where some of the best teams in the state reside, he said. He hopes his experience there will help his Pioneers reach a new level by the time the state tournament rolls around.
“When I’m doing scheduling I try to get the top nonleague schedules in the state so we get that competition to get ready for the state tournament,” he said.
“Over in the OAA, every night was a battle," he added. "I have more depth here than I did over there, so I have a good bench, a good rotation of seven players that can come off the bench and step right in. There isn’t any void in our lineup.”
Nine varsity players–eight of them starters–return to the squad this year. The starters include senior goalkeepers Andrew Pietrzak and Andrew Rinke who have evenly split time in goal so far this season. Ali Jawad, a junior striker leads the attack up front while Peter Corso, a senior, and Evan Behrendt, a junior, hold down the middle.
Seniors starters Khalil Boussi, Ahmad Sabbagh and Ashraf Jaber shore up a stout defense that allowed just three goals in six games. John Marcon, a senior, is also a returning defender for the Pioneers.
Newcomers to the team include seniors Mohamed Abubaker in the backfield and Moe Bagomann, Jawad Khazaal and Mellad Jamalieh in the midfield. New juniors include defenders Ross Hunter and Austin Fundaro; midfielders Chris Hancock, Javier Hernandez, a foreign exchange student, Ali Nehmeh and Eric Neubert; and forward Abdulrazzaq Kinani. The sophomore class adds Mustapha Daher at midfield and Alex Ilisei up front. Lone freshman Ian Walker will help in the middle.
The Pioneers will have to take it one step at a time, though, and make it through the district and regional tournaments, according to team co-captain Ashraf Jaber, a senior defender.
“We have high expectations this year like we do every year,” Jaber said. “Just like every year we win districts and we win our league every year–that’s what we expect. And we expect to win a regional semifinal game and eventually make it to states.”
The Pioneers are on the right track, starting the season with a 4-1-1 overall record that includes a 1-0 victory against a tough Brother Rice team.
“Brother Rice is usually one of the top teams in the state–they’re always right there,” Pfeil said. “It’s always nice to get a solid win to build a foundation on. We’re setting new examples here and new expectations for the program–some new traditions to build on–so it’s nice to see some results on the field.”
Dearborn also knocked off Grosse Pointe South, 2-1, Trenton, 2-0, and tied neighboring rival Divine Child, 1-1, to win the Dearborn Soccer Invitational on Aug. 27. The Pioneers added their fourth victory with a 4-0 league contest against Belleville. The team’s only loss was a 0-1 affair against Ann Arbor Pioneer on Aug. 23.
Emerging as one of the top players on the team is junior striker and the team’s third co-captain, Jawad.
“He’s a big academy player and has played in big games–it’s nothing to him,” said Boussi, a senior defender and team co-captain, of Jawad. “He definitely brings that goal-scoring opportunity. With him on the field and us (Boussi and Jaber) on defense, we have the potential to win every game, 1-0.”
While Jawad leads the team with seven goals in six games, Dearborn is still a unified team and it admittedly takes more than one player to win games.
“Without (Jaber and Boussi) in the back, we don’t have a backline,” Jawad said. “They are usually doing twice the work that I’m doing. They do the dirty work–the hard work. I just stand up there and score. As long as the ball gets up to me and they are doing their job, I give them more credit. It takes a team to score, not an individual.”
Pfeil, his captains and the rest of the team are back in action at home on Wednesday, Sept. 7 with an intercity bout with Edsel Ford at 7 p.m.