By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
TROY – It’s fair to say Hamtramck Frontier International was underestimated entering this fall’s MHSAA boys soccer tournament.
But Division 4 opponents will be wise to pay attention to the third-year program from this point forward.
The Knights entered the District tournament three weeks ago unranked, but beat five top-10 opponents and finished their first MHSAA title run by beating No. 8 Grand Rapids Covenant Christian 3-2 on Saturday at Troy Athens.
Frontier (18-2) also eliminated No. 1 Lansing Christian, No. 4 Birmingham Roeper, No. 5 Genesee Christian and No. 9 Ann Arbor Greenhills along the way.
“Some teams underestimated us, but we came through hard. We knew we could’ve (won) it, and we got this,” Frontier junior midfielder Mujeeb Nahshal said. “The first three years, we came (a long way). We don’t have much support, but thanks to our principals and thanks to our coaches.”
The Knights had advanced to the Division 4 Semifinals in 2010 and made it back to the Regional last fall. Their regular season schedule was loaded with larger schools, and they entered the tournament after losing two of their final three games.
But Frontier outscored its seven postseason opponents by a combined 22-5 and got on the board quickly Saturday when Nahshal scored from about 20 yards out just 1 minute, 54 seconds in off a pass from senior forward Baleegh Algahim.
Although Covenant Christian did well to control the ball, the scoring opportunities during the rest of the first half belonged to Frontier. And midway through the second half, Algahim scored twice within two minutes to put the Knights up 3-0 with 20:25 to play.
“We used to practice day and night,” Algahim said. “We worked hard, so that's what we get.”
The Chargers, also playing in their first MHSAA Final, didn’t give up. Frontier loaded the box and turned away most of Covenant Christian’s increased attack. But Chargers senior Jordan Van Oostenbrugge finally broke through with 4:59 to play.
Van Oostenbrugge scored again with 55 seconds left, before Frontier held tight until the buzzer.
“I wanted to make the game interesting, I guess. Just put the ball in the back of the net, and I got it,” Van Oostenbrugge said. “It’s always difficult to come back from 3-nothing, but I think we got a couple goals there at the end and had a chance. The first half we played a little timid, but we came back in second half and took it to them.”
Nahsal also had an assist on Algahim’s first goal, and sophomore midfielder Habeb Ghaleb had the assist on Algahim’s second. Sophomore Ammar Abdullah had 12 saves. Covenant Christian junior Austin Brower had 10 saves.
The Chargers finished 19-5-1.
“We showed we could play with them. … we just ran out of time,” Covenant Christian coach Mike Noorman said. “I’m very proud of how hard they worked. We had great opportunities. But they finished.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Sophomore Ammar Abdullah makes one of his 12 saves during the Division 4 Final. (Middle) Mujeeb Nahshal (10) and his teammates celebrate after Nahshal scored the game's first goal.
For Sebi Roy, there’s definitely been no place like home.
Just as last season started, Roy moved back to his hometown of Clarkston to play high school soccer after spending roughly 1½ years training with Major League Soccer’s Cincinnati FC as part of the MLS Next program.
Going from training with a professional organization to high school soccer might seem like a major downgrade to the average soccer follower, but it hasn’t been the case at all for Roy.
“It’s great to go from a super high skill ceiling where every touch matters, to something a little bit more free,” he said. “I know a lot more people and it’s a great way to get confidence. I didn’t get a whole lot of training in Cincy, and back here I get so much more individual training in general. Getting the touches and getting development was crucial.”
Ever since Roy came back to Clarkston last year, opponents have certainly wished he stayed in Cincinnati.
It’s especially been the case this year, as Roy, a center forward, has been just about unstoppable.
The 6-foot-3 Roy entered Thursday with 15 goals and five assists over 11 games despite being the constant focal point of opposing defenses and playing in arguably the state’s toughest league, the Oakland Activities Association Red.
Against 2022 Division 1 champion Rochester Adams, Roy scored five goals in a 7-3 win.
Clarkston head coach Ian Jones said he hadn’t even met Roy before last year, then heard rumors from others on that team he was coming back in town.
Still, Roy showed up after tryouts had ended, so Jones had Roy go through a personal two-day tryout.
It obviously didn’t take long for Jones to realize Roy was too good to not have on the team, and that was reinforced during the first game last year when he scored a goal on his first touch of the game. Roy went on to make the Division 1 all-state first team as Clarkston finished 16-5-2 and reached the Regional Finals.
Jones, who has professional experience playing in England and has coached for more than 20 years in the United States, said Roy definitely has the tools to be a professional player.
“I’ve never seen anything like him,” he said. “He’s got unbelievable touch. He’s left-footed and right-footed. He’s got vision and strength. It’s fun to watch him, forget coaching him. You find yourself watching him in games because he’s so good.”
Roy’s father is Travis Roy, who in 1991 won the state's Mr. Soccer Award playing for Livonia Stevenson before going on to play in college at Wisconsin.
Also on the Clarkston team this year is Roy’s brother, Fagan, who is a freshman.
Sebi Roy said his dad started him in soccer “as soon as he could walk,” and he has loved it so much that he hasn’t dabbled in any other sport.
Despite already getting a small taste of what professional soccer would be like, Roy said he prefers to play in college and is still in the process of determining the best spot.
Asked if there’s any top professional player he likes to emulate, the answer was a hard no.
“I want to be my own person,” he said.
Thanks to Roy’s production and a core of other talented players who could be playing at the next level, Clarkston earlier this month achieved a program first – the No. 1 ranking in Division 1.
Clarkston (9-1-1) is down to No. 4 this week after losing its first game last Thursday, a 2-1 decision at now-No. 2 Oxford.
There could soon be a rematch, as Clarkston and Oxford are in the same District in the upcoming Division 1 tournament.
If the teams meet again, Oxford will know the main player to stop – and Clarkston will know the main player to ride as it pursues what would be a first state title in boys soccer. (The Wolves were Division 1 runners-up in 2007).
“He’s the most dangerous player we’ve seen by far,” Oxford coach Adam Bican said. “His size, his athleticism, and his IQ is off the chart. He’s so dangerous, and he has one of the better shots I’ve seen. He’s a pure finisher.”
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
(Photos by Keith Dunlap.)