Cypress Bay entered this season winner of back-to-back state titles, only the fourth school to defend its large-school state championship in Florida soccer history. ESPN HS had awarded it the honor of the nation’s top team.
But when St. Thomas Aquinas beat the Lightning 2-0 on Dec. 3, it ended its 41-match undefeated streak, one of the longest active stretches in the country.
“It was kind of good because it brought us back to reality that it’s not the same team,” senior captain and center defender Breno Ertty said. “It’s a new, fresh team. It was somewhat good for us because it gave us a reality check and made us connect better.”
After all, before the season began, Cypress Bay lost 10 players to a new rule by the U.S Men’s Soccer Federation.
In an attempt to raise the level of play to compete with Europe and South America, it now requires its 80 development academies across the country to operate on a 10-month, uninterrupted training season, which begins in September and stretches into July.
One of the local academies lies in Weston, which meant the Lightning would inevitably be without some of its key contributors. Fifth-year coach John Ramos estimates another two to five incoming freshmen couldn’t play because of the rule.
“We knew talent-wise we would still have good quality because the area produces some good talent, but it was a matter of chemistry because of a new group that is very young,” Ramos said. “It was a matter of sort of rebuilding, but we knew the talent was good enough that we wouldn’t have to wait a few years, and we could almost do it instantly.”
There are just three starting seniors on a team fortunate enough for an overflow of talent from the academy.
Jake Fuhrman, who probably wouldn’t be starting had the upperclassmen been allowed to play, is one half of the freshman center midfield with Miguel Perez.
“It’s crazy starting as a freshman with the legacy of Cypress Bay,” Fuhrman said. “You hear about it everywhere. We’re just trying to keep it along, and we’re just trying to keep winning games, and we’re confident we can make it all the way to state.”
After Tuesday night’s 4-0 District 13-5A semifinal victory over Everglades, the Lightning (14-2-4) will play for the district title Thursday.
Despite the departures, the Lightning continues to incorporate the same style and formation — technical players who move the ball around with outside backs on the attack — it has in previous few seasons.
Chemistry has taken time to develop with a new group of players from various clubs working together for the first time. Ramos said the team has taken the season as a challenge of something to prove. When news broke of the rule, people had already begun to rule out Cypress Bay.
“It was a matter of getting these guys to understand that we started something with those guys, and they have an opportunity to continue that and not roll over,” Ramos said. “It took the whole season because even toward the end we had some bumps in the road where we had to adjust. We’ve always been good at peaking at the right time, and we’re hoping we’re getting that now.”