After making it to the Class AAA semifinals the past two seasons, Naseem Abusalim thought Brentwood might win another state title in soccer this season.
But the pandemic ruined that possibility.
The TSSAA canceled all spring sports, including soccer, in mid-April due to the global coronavirus outbreak.
“I didn’t have a doubt we were going to make the state tournament again,” said Abusalim, a winger and forward. “You know, third time is the charm. I had my eyes on a trophy this time.”
Brentwood lost to Bearden 1-0 in overtime in last year’s semifinals, ending the Bruins’ season at 18-1-1 after Collin Lewis scored on a free kick in the 96th minute.
The Bruins suffered a similar heartbreak in 2018 when Blackman beat Brentwood 5-4 on penalty kicks after two overtimes in the semifinals, ending the Bruins’ season at 14-6-2.
Brentwood was seeking its fifth state championship and first since 2012. The Bruins also won state titles in 1995, 2005 and 2008.
“We were really close and this is the beautiful game,” Abusalim said. “You get so close and you get knocked back down, but I really believe this was the year.”
Brentwood played several scrimmages, but never got a regular-season game in this spring.
“I think they did what they had to do because it was pretty obvious that we were going to have a problem if we were going to have large groups getting together,” Bruins coach Mike Purcell said of the TSSAA’s decision. “I’m sad for our guys, particularly our seniors. They didn’t get an opportunity to show what they can do and we had a good team this year.”
Brentwood would have been competing in the District 11-AAA Tournament last week, but instead, it was quarantining at home like everyone else.
“It’s like an apocalyptical-type movie,” Purcell said. “It’s just hard to believe it’s happening, but it is.”
The Bruins returned eight starters despite losing 12 seniors from last year’s district champion.
“I’ve got a really good sophomore and junior class that would have played this year and my seniors brought a lot of experience to the team,” Purcell said. “Our goal was to get back to state and I think we had as good a chance as we did last year to get there. Of course, other teams may disagree but we’re never going to know.”
Abusalim and Austin Moore combined for about 25 goals last season.
The canceled season was especially tough on seniors like Abusalim.
“You kind of feel robbed of the opportunity, to be honest,” said Abusalim, a Rhodes signee whose preseason begins Aug. 19.
Abusalim and his brother practice on a 6 x 12 goal in their driveway during the lockdown. Moore has been kicking against a wall by his garage and practicing skill moves in the yard.
The team has kept in contact with group FaceTime calls, group text messages and phone calls.
“My mom is 95 and she’s doing OK, but we’ve all been doing the right thing as far as social distancing and following the guidelines,” Purcell said. “I’m staying at home. I go to school and cut the grass on the soccer field about three times a week, but I’m by myself.”
Moore has two older siblings who work in hospitals: his sister, Meg Howard, is a nurse in Houston and his brother, Alex, is in medical school at South Carolina-Greenville.
“It’s definitely pretty stressful because they go in every day just obviously having no clue what could happen, but I think they also believe in the people around them and that they’re taking the right safety procedures to make sure they’re not going to harm anybody,” said Moore, a center back. “I think they’re definitely nervous, but I think they’re pretty strong.”