Andrews Osborne boys soccer: As usual, Phoenix plot unique journey deep into postseason

Oct. 30—Andrews Osborne faces several challenges as it fields a side each fall in boys soccer.

Some may not even occur to the most hearty Northeast Ohioan.

This week, for example, as the Phoenix return to Division III regional competition for the second time in boys soccer in school history, Coach Drago Dumbovic had a conversation with one of his top players, senior midfielder Ishmael Mensah, that reinforced that fact.

"Ishmael, he's from Ghana," Dumbovic said. "He hasn't seen the snow before he came to America. So he goes, 'Coach, it's cold. It's cold.' I said, 'No it's not. Trust me.'"

According to the World Bank, the average temperature in Ghana, on the southern coast of northwest Africa, is around 82. Aiming for 82 is not an expectation in Northeast Ohio in the late fall.

Dumbovic himself joked he'd have to make a trip to the store to purchase hand warmers, with temperatures expected to dip below 40 at night this week.

Such adjustments are welcome, suffice it to say, as AOA takes on Kirtland in a D-III regional semifinal at 7 p.m. Nov. 1 at Ravenna.

The Phoenix are one win away from their deepest advancement in the postseason ever and also since rejoining the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

They do so, as is lauded every year, by bringing together a roster mostly comprised of players from abroad, far-away locales including Spain and, in Mensah's case, Ghana.

"It means everything," Dumbovic said. "A lot of these kids came in, and obviously they want to have good classes preparing for college. They want the experience, and part of the experience in our school is academic and sports. We really want them to succeed and go on, if they would to continue, in college."

But what adds to the degree of difficulty for AOA is not only does it field an internationally centric roster. That roster does not come together until around Labor Day, leading to abbreviated training and acclimation time as well as a shortened regular-season match schedule.

"We start three weeks after everybody else," Dumbovic said. "For us, it's hard to create good chemistry and good discipline. How is our environment? Because at the end, that's going to win.

"It was very good for them to feel it and how playoffs are. Because in our season, we didn't have too many tough games. So (our district final was) one of the first games where they actually literally have to learn how to play as a player in the United States. It was very tough, very physical, very mental."

The Phoenix, through all of that, have navigated that journey well. They are 14-0-1 after that 3-1 D-III district final win over Hanoverton United, the lone blemish a 1-1 draw with Gilmour on Sept. 21.

The United match presented its own uphill climb. On a narrow pitch at Niles McKinley, AOA was unable to implement the width in the attack to which it is accustomed.

"We dominated the game, but they decided they were going to play good defense and try to score on the counterattack with (Maddox Andrea) their leading scorer," Dumbovic said. "They tried to get him the ball. He did score on us. Other than that, we did very well. We did double-team (Andrea), which we usually don't do.

"But that changed our strategy, because now we have one player extra to go on the attack. So we just want to make sure that player doesn't get any chances. Except for one, we took really good care of him. They were very physical. They were very disciplined. And it was hard to break them."

Andrews Osborne faces several challenges as it fields a side each fall in boys soccer.

But it can proudly say it is one of the 48 boys sides still standing in Ohio nonetheless, with aspiration to achieve more.

"They are working very, very hard," Dumbovic said. "And they're very passionate about it. This is a reward for their passion and hard work."