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Gutsy Avengers fall short in state cup final

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They are a small program, with a roster boasting just 10 players. And the coaches? There are two, each working with the team on their own time.

“We’re just volunteers, just dads,” said coach Larry Chaifetz, one of those dads.

They were supposed to be no match for the larger, more established programs. But there was the Riverdale Soccer Club Avengers, nine boys and one girl, looking to shake things up on the local soccer landscape as they faced off against Park Slope United of Brooklyn in the championship game of the New York State Cup final last Saturday in Huntington Station.

“This was the first time Riverdale Soccer had ever gotten to the state cup finals,” said Chaifetz, who coaches the Avengers along with Chris Cuddy.

And with the score knotted late in the match, the Avengers were looking to make a little history and take down their much bigger foe.

But two late goals by Park Slope put an end to the Avengers’ dream as they lost 6-4 to finish second in the prestigious cup tournament in the 9-and-under age bracket.

“It was a really good game,” Chaifetz said. “Park Slope United is a big club and they’re very good. But it was a great match. I think if we played them 10 times, they’d beat us six times and we’d beat them four times.”

Eli Dinnal did all he could to help the Avengers come home with a win logging three goals while Bilal Taoufik added one. But ultimately it wasn’t enough for the Avengers who nonetheless enjoyed a stellar season.

“We’re a very small program,” Chaifetz said. “We have 10 kids on our roster and we play seven-on-seven. We play in the Westchester Youth Soccer League and we play in what is considered the top division in the league. But over the winter, we played in five tournaments against nothing but premier academy teams. Academy is another level up from us and Park Slope was an academy club that is much bigger than us.

“We typically always play against programs that are bigger than we are.”

So the Avengers charge to the cup final was kind of like the soccer version of the movie “Hoosiers”?

“Pretty much,” Chaifetz said, with a laugh. “It’s kind of the equivalent of getting to the finals of your state’s Little League World Series.”

The Park Slope team had nothing but praise for the Avengers after its victory, the coach said.

“A compliment to us, they said we were the best team they faced all year,” said Chaifetz, whose daughter, Sophie, plays on the team. “They had blown out teams left and right this year, but this game was a see-saw battle back and forth.”

As a reward for their superlative season, the Avengers will play much stiffer competition next season thanks to an unexpected invitation from the National Premier League.

“After the game was we got invited by the NPL to join their premier division next year,” Chaifetz said. “That’s quite an honor for our program.”

A run all the way to the state cup final was particularly impressive given that the Avengers’ season got off to a slow start when Chaifetz didn’t quite know what kind of team he had on his hands.

“We had some growing pains in the fall,” Chaifetz said. “We got put in the top division (of the WYSL), and as good as we are, there were other teams that were very good and very aggressive. But then we won several tournaments, and as we played they got better and better, and they were playing some really good teams in these tournaments. They just started playing at a real high soccer level.

“They weren’t playing at a good travel-team soccer level. They were playing premier-level soccer.”

And although their dream ended one victory shy of their goal, Chaifetz said he could not have asked for any more from his young squad.

“After the game they were all crying,” Chaifetz said. “All but my daughter. They were upset that they lost, but they played really hard. We just got beat by a better team. And a classy team, too.”

Chaifetz’s hope is that this year’s success will translate into more kids wanting to join the Avengers program next season and turn it into a regular power that can compete each season with the much bigger programs.

“We’re really looking to expand,” Chaifetz said.

But first there will be one more gathering for this year’s team, to celebrate a special season.

“We’re going to have an end-of-the-season party on (June) 23 with a little barbecue,” Chaifetz said.

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