Aviation stuns nationally ranked MLK to reach PSAL soccer final

By Joseph Staszewski

Playoff dramatics and unexpected wins have become so normal for Aviation over the last five years they shouldn’t come as surprise at this point, but leave it to the Flyers to find a way to write another memorable chapter.

Senior forward Kevin Zepeda, who is in his first season of organized soccer, scored the winner in the second minute of No. 12-seed Aviation’s 1-0 win over three-time defending champion and nationally ranked Martin Luther King Jr., in the PSAL Class AA boys’ soccer semifinal Tuesday on Randall’s Island. Aviation, based in Long Island City, advances to play No 2 Susan Wagner in the title game 4 p.m. Sunday on Randall’s Island. It is its second trip to the final in the last three years.

“I’m pretty sure people didn’t think we’d make it past the second round,” Zepeda said. “But we are there in the final now.”

It is the Flyers’ first victory over Maspeth’s Knights in three tries during its five straight years of semifinal appearances. Aviation coach Mario Cotumaccio didn’t beat MLK and coach Marty Jacobson in his first four tries, including a loss in the final.

“Finally I got him once,” Cotumaccio said.

The game went exactly how Cotumaccio hoped. Zepeda headed in a cross to the far post on a free kick in the second minute. He was playing on a sore left ankle that he injured in a second-round win over Bronx Science. Zepeda used his left foot to best MLK (15-1-0). Following the goal, Aviation (12-2-2) was able to pack in the box and keep MLK from finding the equalizer. Beating the Knights, who have won 15 of the last 18 city titles, is something Zepeda had dreamed of doing when he joined the team.

“Since the beginning of the year I wanted MLK,” he said. “I wanted to face MLK. I wanted to score against them and I accomplished what I wanted to at the beginning of the season.”

It was the biggest moment of what has been a superb season for Zepeda, who put working after school ahead of playing soccer the last three years. He played the game in the park, but never with a real team. It took some adjusting to early in the season. He went on to score 14 goals and dished out eight assists for an Aviation team that finished second in the Queens A West division.

“I wish I had him last year and the year before that,” Cotumaccio said.

Zepeda and Aviation move on to face an undefeated Susan Wagner team that beat Bayside 1-0 in the other semifinal. Beating MLK felt like a title game, but they know the task isn’t complete.

“Right now, we feel like champions because we beat MLK” senior captain Juan Sanchez said. “Now we are going to actually win it.”

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