Separation was hard to come by a season ago for the area’s soccer teams. That problem seems to be repeating itself in the early going this year as teams try to assimilate massive amounts of new players into their rotations.
That gives me even more pause in constructing this ranking than the girls, and I think you’ll see a lot of upheaval as we get into the difficult stretches of the season (not unlike last year). Here’s the best shot we’ve got, then, of organizing the early-season results.
(records through Sept. 15)
1. Haverford School (3-2)
A two-game slide to open the season gave me pause as to whether I’d overvalued the Fords. But those losses, by three total goals, came to strong Maryland teams Archbishop Curley and Loyola Blakefield. They’ve since gotten the offense rolling, behind four goals in three games from Connor Gregory, and Quinn Letter has owned the role of starter between the posts. Beating Conestoga and St. Joseph’s Prep by 2-0 margins signals the Fords credentials as one of Southeastern Pennsylvania’s best.
2. Springfield (3-2)
As I seek to make sense of the Central League, I keep coming back to the Cougars. They know how to win close games. Their only losses have come to Coatesville (3-1 in the opener) and Harriton (1-0 in overtime). They gutted out an OT win over Boyertown last time out. The Cougars seem to carry this stingy mentality from year to year, and it serves them well.
3. Strath Haven (2-3-0)
Things started well for the Panthers last year before the goals dried up. This year’s team seems to again be a work in progress, but the pieces are there. Matt Eiel has impressed in goal. Sean Myers has willingly shouldered the goalscoring burden, and he’s been supported by quality attacking pieces like Dylan Pratzner and Nate Engleka. I don’t think they’re among the best teams in the state or even districts, but they could really grow.
4. Penncrest (4-2)
I’m intrigued by the Lions. The wins haven’t come against a who’s who of opponents – Marple Newtown, Interboro, Penn Wood and Avon Grove. But they’ve scored 15 goals already, led by Sam Brown’s five. It’s all about defense with the Lions, with Jude Morgan really emerging as a strong centerback and Liam Thomas setting in as the goalkeeper.
5. Sun Valley (4-0)
I hate to temper the excitement about the Vanguards’ start, but their four wins have come over teams with one combined wins (that’s Oxford, which they’ve beaten twice). It’s seems we’re always talking about close-but-no-cigar Sun Valley teams, those with the talent and ability to win games that fall just short. This year, though, they’re 3-0 in one-goal games, including OT wins thanks to goals from Ben Golder and Brett Hollenback. Matt Skwirut is as solid a goalkeeper as you’ll find anywhere in the county. They’ll face some stiff challenges in the Ches-Mont, but I could see the Vanguards being among the top two or three teams in their division.
6. Garnet Valley (1-2-1)
I’m running low on options here, so maybe that magnifies the Jags’ start. They’ve drawn against Methacton, lost to Unionville on opening day and lost to Haven in overtime. John Schwein is back healthy after an ACL tear in the spring and has looked like the dominant midfield orchestrator they need him to be. They could get a boost in a couple of weeks if Chris Miele returns to fitness, and they need more offensive production from forward Justin Von Ahnen. It’s a lot of ifs, but unlike most teams, at least the questions are clear enough to articulate.
7. Ridley (4-0)
The opposition for those wins – Glen Mills, Norristown in OT, still-goalless Haverford and Chichester – hasn’t been top shelf. But when you look at the recent struggles of the Green Raiders program, why not open the door for a little optimism? They’ve gotten consistent performances from Pat O’Neill in goal. Romario Elbasani has finished six goals, one of 10 players to find the net. I’m not sure if they’ve laid the foundation to challenge for a Central League title, but four wins this quickly is a momentous step forward for Wayne McKinney’s program.
Also under consideration: Radnor (1-2-3; The good news is that seven players have scored goals; the bad news is that a break here or there to improve a troika of 1-1 draws and their season could look much different); Episcopal Academy (1-2-1; they tied St. Joseph’s Prep and had their two losses come by three total goals, all before they’ve found a consistent striking threat); Marple Newtown (3-1; a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Penncrest gives me serious pause here).