It’s not often that a team wins a state title and then replaces its coach, but that sums up the past year for Gulliver Prep’s boys’ soccer program.
Coach Chris Bart Williams, who led Gulliver to the 2020 Class 4A championship, is out and replaced by Neil Berment, a 44-year-old native of Trinidad and Tobago.
Berment is such a soccer aficionado that he traveled to Spain twice — at his own expense — to learn from some of the Madrid masters of the game.
“I went there in 2013 and again in 2017, each time for nine days,” said Berment, who is coaching a boys’ high school team for the first time in his career. “At the Madrid Training Academy, I worked with Jesus Paredes, who was an assistant coach when Spain won the European Cup in 2008.
“It was a phenomenal experience.”
Berment, who played for Trinidad’s 15-under national team and later collegiately at South Carolina-Aiken, has served as an assistant at his alma mater and also as director of soccer operations at Georgetown University.
But since he’s a Miami newcomer — moving here in 2018 and spending the past two years on more soccer expeditions to Jamaica, Bahamas and Trinidad — Berment was initially an unknown to his Gulliver players.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Gulliver senior co-captain Hugo Ortega said. “I had never heard of this coach.
“When you win state, you hope it will continue for at least a couple of years. But then there was a change. … Now that I know [Berment], I see his plan.”
Juan Lazcano, Gulliver’s other senior co-captain, said he was shocked when the coaching change happened.
“We were all confused,” Lazcano said. “To this day, it’s never really been explained to us. We were just hoping that the new coach could carry the momentum.
“When you’re coming off a state championship, there are doubts. But [Berment] knows what he’s doing. He’s implementing his system, and we’re following him.”
Both Ortega and Lazcano approved of one of Berment’s subtle changes as the players have attended some of Gulliver’s middle school practices to serve as role models and let them know they are the future of the program.
As for the current team, senior forward Marco Gutierrez is expected to be the top goal-scorer, and young players such as freshman Cosme Salas, sophomore Alex Serenczi and junior Pablo Sahagun have shown talent.
Berment said junior defender Oliver Pratt, who has committed to play collegiately for Penn, will play cub soccer this year before rejoining Gulliver in 2021-2022.
“We want to consistently chase championships and scholarships,” Berment said.
Lazcano said there’s a new attitude on the Gulliver team this season.
“The locker-room relationships weren’t the best last season,” Lazcano said. “This year, if someone messes up, everyone doesn’t jump on his back. We just to help him improve.
“We’re more relaxed now.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ Besides Gulliver, the only other reigning state champ from Dade/Broward is University School (Class 4A). But U-School coach Thiago Oliveira said this will be a rebuilding year. Senior defender Julio Rodriguez is the team captain and the only returner from last season’s nucleus. Graduation and transfers took the rest of the roster, and Oliveira will be essentially playing his junior varsity team from last season.
▪ South Broward, the Class 6A runners-up last season, returns six starters. Senior midfielder Nicholas Robles, who scored twice in last year’s state final, is among the returners.
▪ Senior Danny Mendoza, a University of Chicago recruit, is one of nine returning starters for Ransom Everglades, which reached the regional quarterfinals last season.
▪ Cardinal Gibbons, which also reached the regional quarterfinals last season, is powered by Frank Roig, a senior midfielder who had 14 goals and seven assists.
▪ St. Brendan, which finished 13-3-1 last season, is led by Hiroshi Arai, a senior forward who had seven goals and three assists.