RUMFORD — Every year, like most communities throughout the state, Mountain Valley High School welcomes foreign exchange students who are the equivalent of juniors or seniors.
Soccer being the world’s game, one or two of the boys usually play and typically help out the Falcons’ program a little bit.
“We got a lottery,” Mountain Valley coach J.T. Taylor said.
Not one, not two, not three, but four Falcons hail from Europe. They may have achieved varying degrees of stardom on fields thousands of miles away. Here, they’re all-conference caliber players, and they have transformed what was already expected to be a solid club into an undefeated juggernaut.
“I think we would have had a pretty good season without them, but they’ve definitely helped out a lot,” senior co-captain Tucker Rowland said. “They brought us together as a team. They added a lot of chemistry.”
Mountain Valley improved from three wins a year ago to 13-0-1 and the No. 2 seed in the Class C West playoffs.
After scoring only 17 goals in the entire 2013 season, the Falcons needed only four games to surpass that total.
The flags of Sweden (Gustav Gavenas), Denmark (Rasmus Soegaard), Germany (Felix Promm) and Spain (Eduardo Esteban) will fly alongside the Falcons’ banner as they make their postseason run.
“I feel like they make passes better than most of our team,” junior striker Curtis Steele said.
Despite the lack of recent success, with 10 seniors in the mix, Mountain Valley expected an upward move in the MVC.
Two of the international reinforcements arrived a week or two before school and began working out with the team. The other two blended in as school began.
Esteban, whom Taylor said is the member of the quartet least fluent in English, was briefly assigned to the junior varsity until it was determined he was much too good.
“I think the last couple years we kind of underachieved,” said Taylor, who took over the coaching post this season. “With these guys coming in, they kind of stepped everybody else’s game up. They built guys’ confidence up, and they were able to make the runs and make the passes because they knew the ball was coming. In the past we would make runs and either it was a bad touch or the guy wasn’t confident in making the pass. Things started to click once they got here and started to open the field up.”
To opponents who might feel uneasy about a group of skilled outsiders helping to defeat their small-town squads, Mountain Valley points to the once-in-a-lifetime aspect of the additions.
The Falcons have welcomed visitors almost every year, with few resulting playoff wins in the 26-year history of the program.
“Felix distributes the ball very well. What happens usually is you get a foreign who’s really selfish and they don’t really bring that much chemistry. We were pretty lucky this year. We got four good players, and they’re pretty unselfish,” Rowland said.
“Most of the time,” Steele chimed in with a laugh.
Promm is a center midfielder with a blistering shot and a strong leg on corner kicks.
“He moves the ball really well,” Taylor said.
Soegaard was a defensive player in his homeland. Mountain Valley tried to take advantage of his skills by moving him to forward, but a season-ending injury to sweeper Chris Bourret forced the Dane back into familiar territory.
Gavenas is an outside back whose quickness allows him to cheat up and help the offense, as well. Once Esteban became better accustomed to the language and team culture, Taylor was able to use him in a variety of areas.
“They’re not looking to score,” Rowland said. “They’re looking for us to score most of the time. I’m sure if they went out there every game trying to score, they probably would. But it’s not like they’re the whole team. They distribute the ball. That’s their main goal.”
Mountain Valley is in line to host two playoff games, if the Falcons can continue their winning ways.
Taylor graduated from Mountain Valley in 1999. His sophomore year, he was on a 12-2 team that lost 5-0 to Marshwood in the playoffs. Mountain Valley hasn’t won a postseason game in more than a decade.
“The expectations changed as the season progressed. I thought we were definitely a playoff team,” the coach said. “Then we got these guys and started developing chemistry and I thought, ‘Alright, maybe we can get a home playoff game.’ Then we tied St. Dom’s and it was, ‘Maybe we can win MVC.’ We still haven’t seen Maranacook, Waynflete, NYA. That’s a whole different style. It’s great right now. We’ll do what we can.”