The Class 1A, Section 5 boys’ soccer playoffs begin this week and Fridley, after a first-round loss last season, is hoping for a longer stay. In fact, senior captain Esteban Badillo guarantees it.
“We’ll for sure make it past the first round,” Badillo said. “With this team, there are high expectations and we have to meet those expectations.”
An aggressive mind-set served the Tigers (11-3-1) well this season. The highest-scoring Fridley team in coach William Totimeh’s four years at the helm often overwhelmed opponents, winning by three or more goals in six of its 11 victories.
“As a group they’re very technically gifted,” Totimeh said. “And they’re very offensive-minded.”
Reaching the state tournament won’t be easy. Section 5 features formidable Totino-Grace, Breck and DeLaSalle. Breck and DeLaSalle each defeated the Tigers this season.
Players believe in their attacking prowess and want to see what happens if they can get an early lead against a higher-ranked opponent.
“We’re a scoring team so when we get into our rhythm, there’s no one that can stop us,” Badillo said.
Badillo, a coaches association all state second-team selection last fall, serves as conductor in Fridley’s midfield.
Quick feet, good vision and the ability to deliver the ball in the right places makes him an offensive catalyst. His 14 assists put Badillo among the state’s leaders.
“I really trust in my forwards,” Badillo said. “It’s really because of them that I have so many assists.”
Ask high-scoring forwards Ivan Aquino Villalta and Shamake Nur, however, and you learn Badillo is selling his skills short.
“He’s something else,” Villalta said. “He controls things on the field.”
Badillo tallied a hat trick against St. Croix Lutheran on Sept. 29. Concerned his team started slow, Badillo turned a game tied 0-0 at halftime into a showcase of his talents.
“He passes the ball well and helps us score goals, so I was really happy to see him get a hat trick,” Nur said.
Fridley lost 4-0 at home to St. Paul Como Park on Sept. 1, a turning point for a team with ambition.
“As players, we had a Facebook chat and made a deal that we couldn’t lose another game,” Nur said. “We did lose again, but we won a lot of games before that.”
Eight consecutive games, to be exact. Nur scored 10 goals during that streak, Villalta 12.
Now the Tigers’ focus turns to the postseason. Badillo senses all the right elements in his team: maturity, confidence, trust and hunger. Players respect each other as well. On senior night, Nur, a junior, offered his starting spot to a senior teammate.
“I wanted it to be a nice memory for him,” Nur said.
The Tigers hope to make special playoff memories together.
“Our intensity going into games helped us a lot during the season,” Badillo said. “We have to play the same way to win in the playoffs.”