Justin Thompson hasn’t kicked a soccer ball since he was shot in the back in a random act of violence last October in Queens.
But there was no doubt the 17-year-old former Archbishop Molloy soccer and basketball player was the man of the match following the Stanners 2-0 win over Iona Prep Thursday afternoon in New Rochelle.
The wheelchair-bound Thompson, who was surrounded by teammates after attending his first match since the shooting, was a source of inspiration following a scoreless first half.
“We’re not playing for the cameras, we’re not playing for anything else but Justin,” Molloy coach Andy Kostel said was his halftime message. “Maybe that clicked because they do feel very much for Justin.”
Kostel’s youngest son Denes took his father’s words to heart. The junior forward scored both second-half goals, dedicating his first to Thompson.
“Justin being here is great. He means so much to this team,” Denes Kostel said. “For him to be here and for us to be playing that great, it’s terrific…That goal is for him.”
Following Kostel’s first goal, a header from 12 yards out into an open net from a perfect cross by Anthony Iurillo two minutes into the second half, he ran toward the sideline where Thompson was sitting and pointed to his close friend.
“It makes me feel good,” Thompson said. “They’re working hard for me. He just reminded me that I have to keep working. It’s love both ways.”
The goal energized the Stanners, who were more active in the attacking third.
“It definitely opened the game up,” Iurillo said. “We got more possession and everything started to work for us. We just opened the game up more.”
Kostel’s second goal was pure class. After receiving the ball from Connor Leavens down the right sideline, Kostel back-heeled the ball to himself to switch direction, made a diagonal run along the top of the 18-yard box and hammered a left-footed shot past Iona Prep goalkeeper Nick Congionti to put the Stanners in front, 2-0.
“I knew I had to beat the [Iona Prep defender] somehow, so I beat him and took a touch and went to go shoot and it went in,” Kostel said.
Kostel nearly had a third goal, but Congionti made a spectacular save to rob him on an open header in the 68th minute.
It was a hard-working effort by Kostel and the same is true of Thompson, who has worked tirelessly in rehabilitation with the goal of walking the Molloy halls again. Joined by his father Donald on the sideline, Justin was a big part of MSG Varsity’s broadcast of the game. He was a guest at halftime and provided color commentary from the sideline in the second half.
“It was something new, something I can remember in a couple years from now,” Thompson said. “I tried. I think I did all right, though. It was a new experience.”
While Iona Prep fell to 3-4-0 on the season, Archbishop Molloy (7-1-0), ranked No. 6 in New York City by MSG Varsity, extended its winning streak to six consecutive games after a one-goal loss to rival St. Francis Prep on Sept. 7.
It was an emotional victory for the Stanners, especially with Thompson on the sideline.
“It’s not only a win, but it’s a big win, especially for him to be here,” Denes Kostel said. “To keep on winning like this is amazing.”
Added Iurillo: “In Molloy, we’re like a family and Justin is part of our family. With him here today, it was great.”