The best season in Northside boys soccer history ended with the star player’s face buried in the shoulder of his coach.
Daniel Pereira’s eyes might have been tear-free at that moment. We’ll never know. The driving rain at Spartan Stadium had soaked the dress shirt of coach Lorstan Allen all the way to the skin. Nobody was leaving this place with dry eyes — dry anything — tears or no tears.
“Not disappointed, but sad,” Pereira would say later. “Not the way we wanted to end it.”
It only hurt this bad because everything else leading up to it had felt so good. The 21 wins, the unprecedented advancement, the bonding that accompanies those special seasons that nobody realistically sees coming. The Vikings will always have those, tears or no tears.
Western Albermarle earned every bit of this VSHL Class 3 championship, beating the Vikings 4-0 with a second-half barrage of goals, but the story the Vikings penned in 2019 will be remembered.
“I mean, it’s been an amazing season,” said Pereira, the Virginia Tech-bound midfield who scored 44 goals. “We never expected to be here. We were supposed to go out in like the district semifinals. We weren’t supposed to win one game.”
Instead, they won a bunch of them. They won the district tournament championship. The won the region. They made the state semifinals for the first time in school history, then earned a shot to play for it all.
All this came after Northside lost 11 seniors off last year’s team and turned control over to a bunch of newcomers, many of them forced to play unfamiliar positions.
“Lots of emotions,” senior goalkeeper Scott Newman said Saturday. “I’m upset that after everything we went through, it’s come to this. But just thinking about where we came from in the beginning, I’m so proud of our team. I mean, everyone told us we were going to be 0-16. … I’m beyond grateful for everyone who’s been behind our backs.”
Allen remembers the moment his expectations shifted. It was May 3, and his Vikings were playing at Lord Botetourt, which had handed them their first — and, before Saturday, their only — loss on April 9.
Allen was sick that day, so it was the only time all season that he wasn’t on the sidelines. Instead, he lay in bed at home, receiving text updates on his cell phone.
Coach, it’s 1-1
“Then 4-2,” Allen recalled. “Then 5-2. 6-2. That score kept going up, I’m sitting there looking at my phone, going, ‘Are we really doing this?’ Wait, wait, wait — we’ve got six on them? Since when do we get seven on Botetourt? That never happens.
“That’s when I realized, we’ve got something. We’ve got something magical here.”
Much of the magic came courtesy of Pereira, whose rare skill set flummoxed opponents throughout the postseason. The Venezuelan netted 10 times in the region tournament, notched a hat trick in the state quarterfinals and scored the go-ahead goal in Northside’s 2-0 victory over Tabb in Friday’s semifinals.
Little wonder, then, why Allen took a few moments to cradle him in the rain on Saturday.
“It’s bittersweet,” Allen said. “Because I want everything to be the best for him, but I hate to see him go. Instead of just being a player, he’s become a friend. He’s become that part of my life that I’m going to go see him play in the future, but I’m not going to have that same opportunity to be his soccer coach.”
Throughout this run, the Vikings proved they were more than just the Pereira show. Witness Josh Davis streaking down the wing to deliver the crucial pass in the state quarters, freshman Evan Caldwell with the cold-blooded finish in the state semis, Newman making save after save in the district final. And on and on it goes.
“Every day was a new challenge for us,” Newman said. “We never wanted to take the easy road. We never wanted to take things lightly. We knew there was something special — we didn’t know it was going to be this special — but we knew was something special about this team, this year.”
And they’ll hang onto it forever. Tears or no tears.