Headed into the State Cup final against Kirkwood, and after falling to club in the final 1-0 for the past two years, the River Express U18 team was looking for revenge.
They’d find some within the first two minutes, when River forward Marlon Trejo put the Express up 1-0 on a PK.
Then, just before half, midfielder Mac Smith would tack on the insurance goal, when teammate Danny Garza won a ball in the River defensive half and played it long to Smith, who pushed by a defender and finished the chance, to make it 2-0.
That would be the final, as the Express kept Kirkwood off the board in half No. 2, to clinch their second State Cup final in their now 11-year history.
Now getting ready for their second regional final during that history, head coach Duncan Smith — who has coached the squad since their days starting out as 7-year-olds on the playground at Frankford Elementary School — said this is the best squad he’s seen.
“I always joke that I discovered them,” he said with a laugh, noting that the original “Frankford Crew” always lines up the same way for team pictures after big wins, just like they did when they were 7.
“We have some really quality players. These guys — they’re a team. They have a great time training and in games. That’s a big part of our success — they’re all good friends. It transfers onto the field. It really shows when they compete.”
Smith has now coached three State Cup teams (2013 and 2016, and one with the Cosmos); however, the only original players from the original crew are his son, Mac, and Garza.
Back in those days, things were a lot different.
“I remember the first day of tryouts, when I was 7 and Danny was 9. Our first couple of seasons, we would get killed by 10 or more goals,” Mac Smith recalled.
“We started off winning only one game, I think, our first season,” Garza added.
After a couple of rough seasons, the team began to not only improve, but attract more and a more talent — which Duncan Smith attributed largely to the talents of their best player at the time.
“When we first started the team, Danny was our best player by far. Other teams really wanted him to play for them, and he could have very easily played other places, but he stuck around,” he explained. “As he did, more players started to join us.”
Other Indian River High School players to come onboard include Johan Cordoba, Edgardo “Gardo” Velasquez and the Mochiam brothers, Patrick and Mikie. The club also pulls from seven area high schools, extending to schools in Salisbury and Berlin, Md., including Worcester Prep and Stephen Decatur High School.
However, the Express really didn’t start to catch steam until around 2011, when they landed Sussex Tech’s Trejo and other ringers, including Jarod Ramses (Parkside) and Odie Johnson (North Dorchester).
It was Trejo who was called on to take the penalty kick after Garza drew a foul in the box early in the win over Kirkwood.
“Everybody has their role. Marlon’s just our playmaker. He’s kind of the personality of our team,” Duncan Smith said. “He’s the engine in the middle. He wears our No. 10, and that’s how he plays.”
While they’ll celebrate their State Cup victory, soon the Express will get back to work as they wait for their draw and gear up for regionals, to be held this July in West Virginia.
But, as they found out during their 2013 trip to Regionals, held in Newport, R.I., soccer won’t be the only thing they have to take care of when they get there.
“When we go to a tournament like this, it gets pretty expensive,” Duncan Smith explained. “We’re gonna be looking to help raise some funds to help pay for our trip.
“The community really rallied around us the last time, and we hope they can again this time. It takes the pressure off and allows these guys to enjoy competing in the tournament and focus on soccer.”
Win or lose at Regionals, however, for the Frankford OG’s, in what will likely be their last season playing together, they’re happy to go out on top.
“It’s definitely a special thing to win the cup in our last year as a team. I’ve grown up playing with these boys, and to win it with the team name River means a lot to me,” Garza said. “As a team, we have to give a lot of credit to Coach Duncan, in keeping his patience with us and finding ways to keep us successful, even when things didn’t look so great.”
“We’ve had so many great memories, and to go out with a bang our last year made our final run so much better,” added Mac Smith. “I think we will fare well in regionals. I know the boys are excited, and we’ll be working hard in training in the weeks to come.”
For more on River Soccer, check out their website at www.riversoccerclub.com. To help get the team to regionals, send donations to RSC Express, 8 Daisey Ave., Ocean View, DE 19970.