Soccer: Pondering parity and Delco’s early exit

All season in the Central League, it seems we’ve been faced with the question of parity.

What happens, among the boys field, when three teams have a chance at the title going into the last two games of the league slate? How does a boys field that features eight teams within four games of each other in the standings translate to the District One Tournament? What are the ramifications with a girls field in which the highest-seeded team in districts goes to the postseason with a loss and two draws?

Well, the answer among the Delco contingent hasn’t been pretty. And the result is a second week of playoff soccer that features zero Delco teams in the Class AAA field.

The numbers are stark. Including Haverford girls’ playoff game, the 10 Delco teams that qualified for the District One Tournament won just two games (Springfield boys, Strath Haven girls).

– The total margin in those 12 playoff encounters: 28-9 against.

– In a tournament where upsets happen occasionally but certainly not frequently, Delco teams were 2-4 at home (i.e. games the seeds say they should win). Half of the first-round games in which the lower-seeded teams lost (four of eight) featured Delco teams.

– Through the first two rounds, the three most lopsided results involved Delco teams on the short end of the scoreline: Springfield boys’ 6-1 loss to Wissahickon; Strath Haven girls’ 5-1 loss to Spring-Ford; Interboro boys’ 4-0 loss to Kennett. That’s in a tournament where 70 percent of the first- and second-round games (29 of 41) have been decided by one goal or less.

– The struggles aren’t necessarily league specific. The Lower Merion boys team, which drew a No. 21 seed, upset No. 12 Boyertown in the first round before bowing out. Harriton’s boys team lost to Springfield in the first round, but both the Conestoga boys (a No. 9 seed) and girls (No. 10) remain alive.

– If you’re looking to compare those numbers to other leagues, the most natural seems to be the Ches-Mont. The Ches-Mont boys teams are 9-3, comprising half of the quarterfinal draw. The Ches-Mont girls aren’t quite so prolific but still stand at 4-6 with a team alive. The regular-season standings in those leagues were a little less convoluted than the Central League with undefeated league champs for both the boys and girls.

So what’s the take home from all this? There’s a tendency in the middle of seasons, as teams are beating up on each other, to say, ‘wow, all these teams must be making each other stronger with all this competition.’ That’s the rosier approach, one that doesn’t have much factual backing.

What it really means is that teams are very evenly matched. In a sport like soccer where the margins between wins and losses come down to such small factors as erratic officiating or wind or fluky touches or bounces inside the box, and teams only play each other once, a one-off affair doesn’t tell us all that much.

The final verdict on any league is how well its representatives perform when pitted against the products of other league’s crucibles of competition in the playoffs.

On that count, the Central League and Delco’s participation in particular has clearly come up short.

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