Monroe turns season on the brink into historic championship

The James Monroe boys’ soccer team went from nearly forfeiting its season to city champs.

The No. 16-seeded Eagles completed their magical journey by beating No. 9 Springfield Gardens 2-1 on a 45-yard strike from Mamadou Jaith in the 79th minute at St. John’s University’s Belson Stadium last Saturday. The PSAL Class B crown is the first title in school history. It ends a year where Monroe was one more forfeit away from not playing a single game.

“The first two games we had to forfeit ands nobody thought we were going to make it here,” Jaith said. “I tried to prove everybody wrong about us.”

The Eagles (14-2-1) had just six players when the season began after losing six to graduation and six to the newly formed Annex Campus team, which represents a smaller school that is part of Monroe Campus. It left the Monroe players scrambling to find friends to practice and be medically cleared so they can be added to the roster in time. The Eagles has just 13 players on the bench for the title game and lost Gerry David to a concussion in the quarterfinals.

“They scrapped this team together,” Eagles coach Carmine Skrine said.

He didn’t think their efforts would be good enough as the Eagles lost three more players before Monroe was getting set to face Taft on Sept. 16 in its third scheduled game. The league told Skrine that Monroe would forfeit the season if he could not field a team.

“I thought we were going to forfeit the game,” Skrine said.

Monroe had the minimum 11 players. It won 2-1 and did not lose again.

The Eagles needed another stroke of good fortune to complete the storybook season. Jaith, who had been told by Skrine to shoot from deep when open, unleashed a blast to the lower right corner. Springfield keeper Akeem Kerr dove to this left. He got his hands on the ball, but it rolled underneath them for the winning score.

“I said let me just give it a try,” Jaith said. “It’s the last minute. Whatever happens it happens. This is what happened. I score.”

The Eagles grabbed an early lead when Joel Miranda just got the tip of his foot on a through ball into the box and score just under the bar to make it 1-0 in the 29th minute.

“I scored like [Lionel] Messi,” Miranda said with a smile.

Springfield Gardens (14-3-0) knotted things up at 1-1 when Christopher McLaughlin scored on a free kick. His shot deflected of the defensive wall and in. McLaughlin nearly gave the Eagles the lead, but luckily for Monroe his 20-yard blast hit off the bottom of the bar rand did not cross the goal line on the way down in the 30th minute.

Monroe survived it all and persevered just like it has all season.

“This year they played from the heart,” Skrine said. “All heart.”

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