Rich Tighe likes to think of his soccer team at Sheepshead Bay the way kids dream of Christmas.
“You get gifts during the season,” he joked, equating gifts to players.
Sheepshead Bay has a such a large amount a foreign-born students, Tighe often inherits newcomers once school starts. This year was no different, as a handful of newcomers, most notably talented midfielder Filip Kuba, came to practice the first day of school.
Kuba, the coach said, is one of the reasons the Sharks (8-3-1) clinched a share of the Brooklyn A West crown last Friday afternoon with Fort Hamilton, the Brooklyn school’s first division title since winning Brooklyn B South in 2005 and first ‘A’ crown since the 1980’s, according to Tighe. He has enabled center midfielder Barak Yosef to play more aggressively, which has freed up forwards Richmond Ahadzi and Tolga Ozkan and has improved Sheepshead’s midfield.
“When you put two kids in the midfield as dynamic as they are, you watch the ball move faster and you watch passes get connected more easily,” Tighe said.
It was quite a turnaround from last year when Sheepshead finished sixth in the division with a 2-10-0 record. Tighe noticed a significant difference in his players in the season-opening 3-2 loss to Madison, the borough powerhouse, which had won the division the previous two years.
Sheepshead blew a two-goal lead, a disappointing result. Yet Tighe left the field buoyed by his players’ reaction afterwards.
“Before, it was almost like Thank God we don’t have to play them again,” he recalled. “But at the end of this game, the kids were mad because we let a game we should’ve won get away. … When they had the unfortunate forfeit, the kids were upset. They wanted to play Madison. They asked me if [Madison] could forfeit against someone else. It told me these were different type of kids.”
Once Kuba found a rhythm, the Sharks took off. They rebounded from a 1-2-0 start by closing the regular season with a 7-1-1 mark, including three straight wins over Lincoln, Midwood and Brooklyn Tech by a combined 16-4 score.
Tighe singled out four MVP’s of the club: Yosef, Ozkan, Ahadzi and Steevans Laventure. After graduating standout sweeper John Thomas, Tighe was unsure who would fill the void. Laventure accepted the challenge, moving back from striker and has excelled in front of goalkeepers Dave Novembre and Stephane Jean Charles.
Ahadzi leads the Sharks with 11 goals, while Ozkan has 10 and a Brooklyn A West-leading 16 assists and Yosef has managed seven tallies and 14 helpers.
“The old cliché is you’re only as good as you are up the middle and those kids have been great up the middle,” he said. “
The Sharks will now wait to see where the PSAL sticks them in the Class A playoffs. The wait is an enjoyable one for Tighe, who missed the playoffs twice in his previous three seasons.
At the year’s outset, he asked his players to make the playoffs. Once that was accomplished, they set their sights on the division. Now, it’s the postseason.
“What makes me proud is we’re tough to play against — that’s all I want,” he said. “I think this team is good enough to make a run in the playoffs. Where that ends, I’m not sure. But I’m really looking forward to having some fun.”