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Hungry RKA Tigers are back to their winning ways

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It was just a couple of minutes after his Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy boys soccer team had wrapped up its fourth victory of the season. But instead of celebrating, all Tigers head coach Will Cushing wanted to talk about was a loss from the previous week.

“We were humbled by Taft (on Sept. 28) and we were outplayed,” Cushing said of RKA’s lone defeat this year. “I told the guys that that could be a good experience if you go through something like that early in the season, and you learn from it, and you realize that you still have a lot of work to do.”

Apparently the Tigers got the message, especially Timotheos Charitos, as the senior logged a hat trick and added two assists as the Tigers rebounded by posting a dominating 6-0 victory over rival IN-Tech.

The victory raised the Tigers’ record to 4-1 on the season.

At a steamy Van Cortlandt Stadium, no one was hotter than Charitos. After teammate Bashar Saleh opened the scoring with a goal in the 29th minute, Charitos scored a pair of goals in the next three, and the rout was on for the Tigers. When Richard Gonzalez added another Tigers tally just before halftime, RKA was up 4-0, and the only question remaining was whether Charitos would net the hat trick.

“Timo is a very solid player, and he has paid his dues,” Cushing said. “He’s been on the team for four years, and year by year, he’s gotten better and better. He’s a guy that has really come through the program, and each year he has taken one step forward to the point now that he’s really helping lead the way.”

Salah added his second goal of the game midway through the second half for a 5-0 RKA advantage. And with time growing short — and the mother of all rain storms quickly moving in — it looked as though the Tigers would be content to simply play out the game’s remaining minutes and get home dry.

But then Charitos struck again, beating both the rain and IN-Tech goalkeeper Javier Rodriguez for his third goal to complete the scoring. The tally gave Charitos nine goals in five games this season.

It’s a brilliant start to the 2019 campaign for the senior, but one that has resulted from long hours of practice and hard work. In fact, Charitos knows exactly when those efforts began.

“We’ve all been working really hard since Aug. 19,” said Charitos, who also had a four-goal game this season in an opening-day win over the very same IN-Tech team. “The first day we came here for practice, 8:30 a.m., we were on the track running two miles. The first day. So I think the hard work we’ve put in is paying off.”

But just as Cushing said earlier, Charitos pointed to that loss to Taft as a lesson learned, and one he and the Tigers don’t want to repeat.

“We thought they were going to be a worse team than they actually were, so when they came out and played well, we weren’t expecting it,” Charitos said. “They played better than us that day. But we’ve come back strong, and that’s what really matters.”

After capturing the Bronx B-II Division title in both 2016 and 2017, the Tigers look to improve on last year’s second place to get back to their division-winning ways. And with a 4-1 start — including a sweep of the season series with IN-Tech — they look to be doing just that.

“I hope so,” Cushing said. “We returned most of our starting lineup from last year, so I knew we were going to be a more experienced team this year. But certainly our goal for this season is to win the division and then make a playoff run. But that’s always been our goal.”

It’s losing the division crown last season that is driving Charitos this time around.

“That motivated me because I felt like we deserved it last year,” Charitos said. “But this year I feel like we have all the pieces, so I think we can make a really good run this season.”

RKA’s 4-1 mark has it back atop of the division, a familiar lair for these Tigers. And with just four games remaining in the regular season, the opportunity is there for a memorable run for Charitos in his swan song season.

“Being a senior, this year it’s the last of everything,” he said. “So we want to make something happen. I just want to get something big out of this year.”

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