It appears there is a changing of the guard on the Bronx high school soccer landscape.
For the last several seasons, the Public School Athletic League’s Bronx A-1 Division has been dominated by a Bronx Science program that has won three straight divisional crowns and posted a 29-3-3 record in the regular season over that span.
But the Wolverines’ run as top dog in the division appears to be over as Clinton has emerged as the division’s elite this season. And with its come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Kennedy last week — another divisional upstart this season — the Governors have all but sewn up their first division crown under third-year coach Matthew Keller.
Even if Keller is not quite ready to admit to it just yet.
“I know we still have to play Science one more time, and as long as they’re in the division they are the team to beat,” Keller said. “We’re just looking to keep playing consistently.”
And while the Governors do indeed have to square off with the Wolverines one final time this season — Oct. 12 at Harris Field — a lot would have to go wrong for Clinton not to win the division title. After its victory over Kennedy, Clinton holds a four-point lead over the Knights for the top spot with just three regular-season games remaining. Two of those games will come against Mott Haven and Health Opportunities high schools, a pair of programs that own a combined 2-10 record.
So the opportunity to snag that elusive division title is certainly there for the taking for Clinton (6-1).
“We really want to win a championship, and I really think we can do it,” said Clinton senior Momodou Touray, who scored two goals in the win. “We have a good team. We’ve lost just one game this year (5-0 to Kennedy on Sept. 9), so I really think we can win it.”
Kennedy (4-1-2) took a 1-0 lead midway through the first half when Alou Diarisso scored for the Knights. It remained that way into the second half, but that’s when Clinton caught fire, scoring three times in the final 40 minutes.
Touray’s first goal knotted the game at 1, and when Yankuba Konteh found the back of the net minutes later, Clinton had a 2-1 lead.
Kennedy would tie the score at 2 later in the half, but any momentum the Knights had built was quickly extinguished when Touray scored his second goal of the game with just over a minute to play to seal the win.
So how did this Clinton team emerge to become a player in the division this season?
“We have a lot of seniors,” Keller said. “They’ve been with me the past three, four years, so I think being in the program for four years and knowing our system, it’s all kind of coming together now. We’re working pretty hard, and these guys love it and want it.”
And it doesn’t hurt having Touray to lead the offensive charge for the Governors.
“Last year he was our top scorer, so coming into this year, we had big expectations for him,” Keller said. “That’s kind of our offense: find Momodou and let him do his thing, and it worked out for us today, especially in that 80th minute or so.”
All in a day’s work for Touray.
“We really wanted to get the win and get into first place, and we got that,” Touray said. “I was so happy to score those goals, especially that second one. I just want to keep on scoring and help my team win games. That’s my job.”
Kennedy, it should be noted, is another program on the rise and one capable of a long run in the upcoming postseason. The loss to Clinton was the Knights first of the season, and they still have an outside shot at catching Clinton for the division title.
“The team has been pushing hard and is dedicated to winning,” said first-year coach O’Neil Spencer, who ironically was a star for Clinton in his high school days. “We’ve been working hard in practice and have been really unified during games, and I think that is showing. But I want to continue to push them. They need to start believing more in themselves. They need to start believing that the can do it, and once they start believing that they can, they will because they are good high school players.”
But with the victory over Kennedy and a favorable schedule remaining, Touray thinks Clinton will soon be crowned division champs.
“We’re the team to beat,” Touray said. “We have good players and we’re on a good roll. We just got to get ready for the playoffs, and we will be ready.”