The Atlanta International boys’ soccer team entered the 2013 season with high hopes after finishing runner-up in Class A the year before.
The Eagles have certainly picked up where they left off, and are poised to make another serious run at the Class A title as they look ahead to the state playoffs.
It’s been another memorable year for AIS, which was 13-2 overall and leading Area 5A with an 8-0 mark going into Friday’s game with local rival Galloway.
The Eagles are the top-ranked team in the Eurosportscoreboard.com Class A boys’ soccer poll.
A state title would be only the second in school history, with the boys’ cross country team winning the Class A crown in 2005.
Atlanta International athletic director Gregg Albright is impressed with how the success of the boys’ soccer team has galvanized the entire school.
“What I have loved about this team is that they brought the community together, especially during the playoff run [last year]” Albright said. “We got to host all of our state playoff games and the crowds increased from 200 to 400 to over a thousand in the final. What we noticed is that the community has rallied all around the boys and the feeling around the school was festive and fun. It has brought the athletic program and the school in such a positive light.”
AIS coach Paul Forde said he is confident about his team’s prospects for another run at the state title.
“We’re in a great place right now,” Forde said. “We lost in the [finals of] the state playoffs and we’re trying to reach new heights this year. Getting into the playoffs and, hopefully, getting to the championship [game] and [winning] a championship would be a fantastic ending to the season.”
Like the school as a whole, the AIS boys’ soccer roster has a strong international flavor — with about 60 percent of its players hailing from other countries.
For Forde, a native of Great Britain, that diversity is a strong positive for his team.
“It’s a huge strength,” Forde said. “The last couple of years, it’s been an amazing contribution to why we’ve been successful, because of that energy and that knowledge. Some of the skills that the international kids have learned, the team has benefitted from all of that. We have a strong American contingent as well, so it’s not all international players. So, I think the international members have helped to give some of the benefit of their knowledge to our American players as well.”
Atlanta International’s success has come on both sides of the ball, outscoring its opponents 50-6 and recording 10 shutouts.
“I think we have a very good, creative midfield,” Forde said. “We have some good midfielders on the team and that’s able to give us some added elements to our offensive tactics. Defensively as well, we managed to limit the number of goals that we conceded this year. We’re very strong defensively. So, we’re pretty well balanced throughout the team.”
Senior right back Dullah Hassan, a native of Afghanistan, leads the Eagles as team captain.
Senior center forward Chris Ferandel (Venezuela), junior goalkeeper Lucas Fischer (Germany) and junior center back Bosho Sale (Eritrea) are among the other key international players.
Freshman left wing Nate Leopold has shown considerable promise in his first varsity season, according to Forde, while junior Nick Padula is a top contributor in the midfield.