If you’re looking for a good David versus Goliath sports story these days, you’d be hard pressed to find one better than the Riverdale Hornets boys soccer program.
The Hornets are a relatively new outfit — all of four years old — and are the creation of co-coaches Leo Liberman and Yaron Babila, who each have a son playing on the U12 boys team. But what makes the Hornets different from their competition is, well, just about everything.
“We play in the Riverdale Soccer Club and they have about 10 travel teams total,” Liberman said. “But many of the other clubs that we play against are from Westchester where they have 50 to 60 teams. We have usually one or two teams per age group, but they have six or seven teams in their age groups.”
That means each group has an A team” — or an elite team — along with secondary squads like B and C teams.
“A lot of times they have professional coaches,” Liberman said. “All of the teams in the Riverdale Soccer Club are coached by parents.”
Playing fields and practice spaces for the Hornets also pale in comparison to those of their opponents.
“All these clubs that we play against have beautiful facilities and they play on nice fields at schools that have two or three fields with very nice grass or turf,” Liberman said. “We practice three times a week in Van Cortlandt Park, and it’s very hard because sometimes we can’t find a spot to practice in because everything is taken, or there is no room, or the grass is very high. So, in that sense, it’s much more challenging for us.”
But none of that seemed to faze these Hornets as they turned in a strong fall season leading to an even better spring/summer campaign knocking off Players Eye FC of Westchester recently to capture the U12 Silver Westchester Cup at SUNY Purchase.
“It was a very big thing for us,” Liberman said.
The Hornets got contributions from all over their small program. Liberman’s son, Ben Liberman, scored three goals in the cup-clinching win, while Yoni Marom and Luke Liston tallied two goals apiece. While that trio did all the heavy lifting on the offensive end, Liberman said his team’s solid defense — “solid as a wall” — was equally responsible for the victory. That included the likes of Alex Ehrlich, Micah and Eitan Dardick, and Dante Marinacci. The midfield was dominated by Lior Babila, Daniel Budyatsky, Sammy Mandel and Augie Grimstad, while goalie Aidan Ruane saved multiple chances on goal.
Yes, it was quite the team effort for the little program that could.
A real Cinderella story, one might say.
“Cinderella?” Liberman said. “I like that.”
It wasn’t all the logistical obstacles the Hornets overcame to win the cup that bonded this team, Liberman said. It was something deeper.
“I think what makes them so determined is the friendships they have built over the years,” said the coach, an Argentina native who has called Riverdale home since 1999. “This is a team that has played together for four years. They’ve been playing together since they were in first and second grade. So they’ve built up friendships, and that’s what makes them want to come to practice and play well.”
There was a pizza party to cap off the Hornets’ record season, but then there was the question of what to do with the team trophy. Liberman came up with a rather unique way of allowing everyone to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
“Right now I have it in my home,” Liberman said. “But the plan is for each kid to have it in their home for a couple of weeks through the year.”
But this is not the end of the Hornets’ marvelous story. They will be back for more next season when they compete in a new age group: U13.
“It will be more challenging,” Liberman said.
“We’re actually looking for more players for our team, so it was a big thing that we won the championship because that draws more players. We have a couple of new ones coming in already, but we’re still looking for more.”