MIDDLETOWN – In Felipe Tobon’s mind, he’s a defender, first and foremost.
That’s always been his natural position, but New Rochelle coach Jarohan Garcia recognized versatility in the junior’s game and granted him the freedom to push forward on offense when the moment is right.
“From the beginning of the season, I never thought about going up close to the goal at all,” Tobon said. “But my coach told me, ‘Felipe, you have a good attacking mentality,’ and that’s when I started going up for the team.”
Tobon has picked his spots and contributed six goals for the Section 1 champion Huguenots — none bigger than the one he scored on Saturday.
Less than six minutes into overtime of the Class AA regional final against Section 9 champion Newburgh Free Academy, it was Tobon on the finishing end of a Cristian Valencia corner kick. The unforgettable 2-1 win pushed New Rochelle into the state semifinals, where it will play the Long Island champion (either Section 8’s Calhoun or Section 11’s Brentwood) back at Faller Field next Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
“I was very nervous because they were playing very intense,” senior Harwan Alzuabidi said. “I don’t know what happened to us in the second half, but we kept our heads up. Our captain (Ethan Manley) talked to us and was like, ‘We have to take this home. We didn’t come this far to lose. We’re making history.’ ”
The Huguenots (12-4-4) looked like their normal selves in the first half, with Alzuabidi bouncing a goal in off of the far post in the seventh minute while the defense did not allow a shot on goal.
“The first half, we were playing really solid,” Alzuabidi said. “Coach tells me to always pressure and I read the play. I got the ball, worked hard for it and I just shot it.”
They took that 1-0 lead into halftime, but after allowing an own goal in the 45th minute that tied the score, New Ro seemed to drift anyway from its possession-based style in favor of more ineffective, long passes.
“They knew what they were playing for and we forgot what we were playing for,” Tobon said. “We kept trying to kick it up, and this isn’t the first time that we’ve done this. We’ve done it in other games, too. It’s something we’ve been trying to work on because when we score a goal, we tend to sit defensively, and that’s something that we can’t do.”
The lackadaisical play led to Manley speaking up before the game went to overtime, and his teammates responded.
The result is a trip to the New York State final four next weekend, where the Huguenots can take aim at their first state championship since 1986.
“It’s great to represent the school in a positive manner,” Tobon said. “It’s great to have a coach that has changed the program so much and brought us to where we are as a team. Soccer was never big at New Rochelle High School, so it’s good to bring our school this success.”