For perhaps one last time, the Mattituck High School boys state championship team got together for a soccer game, not to play in one, but to watch one at Yankee Stadium.
The Tuckers were among eight teams honored at New York City F.C.’s High School Champions Night on Friday. They watched the hosts rally from a two-goal deficit while playing a man down to record a 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire.
Goalkeeper Ben Knowles, who will graduate next month, called it “a great atmosphere” as a crowd of 23,315 attended the Major League Soccer match.
“It’s great having the entire team coming back together one more time and just sharing the experience,” he said. “Not that we separated since we won states, but we haven’t been together as much as we like to. It was good to have everyone back as a family and to experience it one last time together.”
Twenty-one players and four coaches attended, including Mat Litchhult, who stepped down as head coach after winning the championship.
Driving some 80 miles through rush-hour traffic from the North Fork to the south Bronx on a Friday afternoon can be a test of patience, but the Tuckers arrived in time for the 7 p.m. kickoff.
The bus ride was just like old times.
“It was a lot of fun. We were hanging out,” Knowles said. “It honestly felt like the way how it used to be like [when] the team went [to Middletown] to the states. It seemed like the same atmosphere. We were having an amazing time.”
At around the 25th minute, Litchhult and Paul Hayes and James Hayes started their trek to the field for the halftime ceremonies.
“We were basically in the underbelly of Yankee Stadium, which was pretty cool,” Litchhult said, adding that they walked next to Monument Park. “The outfield experience was pretty quick. It was an experience you will never forget, walking the outfield at Yankee Stadium. It was pretty amazing.”
The Mattituck team was announced over the public-address system. None of the N.Y.C.F.C. players were available as they were more interested in preparing for the second half.
“It was kind of a quick in-and-out session,” Litchhult said. “Took a picture against the wall. The camera went down the line. I couldn’t really see the video board. It was behind us. I heard the announcement. It still was an experience that was pretty cool that the guys got to experience.”
And a pretty dramatic finish as well as rookie Khiry Shelton scored two minutes into second-half stoppage time.
Knowles enjoyed the fantastic finish because he is an N.Y.C.F.C. supporter. “I’m a huge David Villa fan,” he said of the Spanish international who plays for the expansion club. “I love N.Y.C.F.C.”
Brian Doherty and Matt Foster also are N.Y.C.F.C. fans, Litchhult said.
“Brian Doherty has been to almost every home game,” he added. “He had the flag on and knowing the chants. Some guys are really into the game with supporting chants.”
“Being at Yankee Stadium, the mystique was pretty cool. The guys took that in. Just the experience of watching top professional soccer in this country. It got exciting, too, because they came back and tied.
“When they were down to 10 men and 2-0 I was like, ‘It could get ugly now’, but it never did. It was a much better performance in the second half. The stadium erupted with that goal. It was pretty cool to see.”