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Mercury-Area Boys Soccer Preview

Expansion is the name of the game entering the fall season. The Pioneer Athletic Conference has expanded to 12 teams with the introduction of Norristown and Upper Merion while the PIAA has expanded to four classifications in boys soccer. The Liberty Division (Boyertown, Methacton, Norristown, Owen J. Roberts, Perkiomen Valley and Spring-Ford) fields Class AAAA schools while the Frontier Division (Phoenixville, Pottsgrove, Pottstown, Pope John Paul II, Upper Merion and Upper Perkiomen) holds the Class AAA schools. What hasn’t expanded is the number of non-league games on each PAC team’s schedule. Along with home-and-home matchups in divisions, each team will play three crossover games. Established by enrollment numbers, Spring-Ford, Owen J. Roberts and Perkiomen Valley match up with Pottstown, Pottsgrove and Upper Merion; Boyertown, Norristown and Methacton match up with Upper Perkiomen, Phoenixville and Pope John Paul II for the two-year cycle.

Boyertown

Head coach: Scott Didyoung, 25th season

Last year’s record: 10-2-1 PAC, 15-4-1, PAC champion

Players to watch: Seniors Alex Brisbois, Garrett Halteman, Alexander Kidwell, Owen Kulig, Sam Marks, Connor McKeown, Erik Recke, Will Schul, Kyle Sheahan, Nik Verma. Juniors Ben Margavich, Conner Reiss, Jimmy Towers, Ben Wise, Ben Vermeesh, Sal Marciante.

Outlook: What’s not to like? Boyertown is coming off a PAC championship season and returns double-digit contributors from a season ago, including All-Area first team forward Alex Kidwell, second team defender Erik Recke, plus key midfielders Will Schul and Nik Verma. The Bears have acquired another goalscorer in junior forward Sal Marciante, a transfer from Faith Christian who was named to the PSCA All-State team in 2015. As is often the case for the fast-playing Bears, coach Scott Didyoung says depth and team speed will be places of strength. “We must stay healthy, be consistent with finishing opportunities, and peak as a team at the right time,” Didyoung said. “We cannot be content with what has happened in the past; we must take each moment in the present and make it best.” The Bears remain contenders as usual, potentially the favorites to repeat as PAC champions.

Methacton

Head coach: John Smeykal, 3rd season

Last year’s record: 8-4-1 PAC, 10-7-1 overall

Players to watch: Kevin Conrad, def.; Mike Kerkering, def.; Nick Coffin, mid.; Eric Kihle, mid; Mike Realbuto, mid; Vince DeLisi, fwd.; Connor Bossard, fwd.; Max Jones, fwd.

Outlook: Methacton brings a solid blend of experience and up-and-coming talent to the field in 2016. The Warriors were on the heels of Liberty leaders Boyertown and OJR last season and finished with a 10-win season. They’ll have to replace all-PAC first team midfielder Connor Stevenson and second team forward Tyler Ziegler. Methacton will be boosted by its first season on  turf and will again look to push the division favorites for a PAC playoff spot, a third-straight double-digit win season and a place in the district playoffs.

Norristown

Head coach: Jared Elias, 5th season

Last year’s record: 3-11 SOL American, 5-13 overall

Player to watch: Seniors Johan Navarrete Geronimo, mid.; Oscar Garcia, mid. Junior John Gonzalez, GK; Sam Giovinazzo, def.

Outlook: Norristown joins the Pioneer Athletic Conference and slots into the Liberty Division with the other Class 4A schools. The Eagles will look to use their stable defense and midfield and new scenery to surprise some opponents and build on last year’s 5-win campaign. “We are excited for the new season and new league. We expect to compete and hopefully surprise a few teams,” Elias said.

Owen J. Roberts

Head coach: Eric Wentzel, 5th season

Last year’s record: 11-2 PAC, 16-6 overall, PAC runner-up, District 1-AAA second round

Players to watch: Seniors Brandon Ott, mid.; Jason Long, def.; Austin Koury, def.; Doug Sbei, def.; Nolan Smith, mid.; Andrew Siana, mid.; Tyler Stonebraker, GK. Junior Graham Pugh, fwd.

Outlook: The Wildcats’ senior class has been a big factor since they were sophomores. Now it’s the final go-around for the bunch led by all-PAC first team Brandon Ott and second team Austin Koury. OJR may still be stinging from losing last year’s PAC final to Boyertown in PKs and won’t be interested in repeating that fate again. Midfielder playmaker Bruce Dowlin, last year’s Mercury All-Area Player of the Year, has graduated, as did goalkeeper Steven Brady, who will be replaced by senior Tyler Stonebraker. “(Stonebraker) has been working hard every day. He is going to surprise people with the quality of his play,” coach Eric Wentzel said. The potential is there for a return to the PAC final and the district playoffs – how far the Wildcats take it is up to them.

Perkiomen Valley

Head coach: Bob McCabe, 20th season

Last year’s record: 3-9-1 PAC, 3-14-1 overall

Players to watch: Seniors Chris Fiore, def.; Kyle Bessette, mid. Juniors Michael Weir, mid.; Andrew Daubenspeck, GK; Jake Rogers, def.; Ryan Dao, mid.; Adam Styer, mid. Sophomores Brian Love, def.; Max Chamorro, fwd.; AJ Hansen, def.; Matt McCabe, mid.

Outlook: A three-win season a year ago was uncharacteristic of the Vikings. This season they’re on the road to recovery. With its experience featuring defensively, PV hopes the ‘D’ can keep opponents off the scoresheet as the offense finds its form. “As a young group, gaining game experience and building confidence are keys to any success that we will have this season. Finding a consistent, legitimate scoring threat would also help.” PV is in the chase pack in the Liberty Division and is beginning the year with humble goals: “Win more games than last season, make every game competitive, gain experience, and hope that we are playing our best soccer at the end of the season,” McCabe said.

Phoenixville

Head coach: Mike Cesarski, 3rd season

Last year’s record: 7-6 PAC, 9-10 overall

Players to watch: Seniors Phil Mezsaros, mid.; Andre Souza, fwd.; Mitchell Coll, GK.

Outlook: If there are two facets a team wants to be set in they’d be scoring and goalkeeping. Phoenixville is on both sides with their top two goalscorers back in all-PAC first teamers Phil Meszaros and Andre Souza and goalkeeper Mitchell Coll. Everything else will need to come together for Phoenixville to be back in the PAC semifinals and to get above .500 and into the new-look District 1 Class AAA playoffs. “Some of our less experienced players will need to learn quickly. We only have five seniors this year so there are a lot of players who will be gaining valuable experience this year,” coach Mike Cesarski said. “We want to improve defensively and limit the chances we give up.” The Phantoms appear primed to contend for the PAC playoffs again and should earn its way into districts.

Pope John Paul II

Head coach: Tom Csongradi, 3rd season

Last year’s record: 7-10 overall, District 1-AA qualifier

Players to watch: Seniors Andrew Gray, def.; Andrew Snyder, mid.; Tim Faust, mid. Juniors Nick DiPietro, mid.; Colin Flanegin, fwd.

Outlook: Tom Csongradi’s third year in charge at PJP netted the Golden Panthers its most successful year to date that feature a trip to the district playoffs. For an encore, PJP faces a higher degree of difficulty. For starters, PJP needs to gain familiarity. “Being a younger team, we have a number of players that have not played together before,” Csongradi said. “We need to get our players working together at a high level of play and get them in sync with each other. We believe we can do this, but we will need to get a number of games under our belt before we can see it coming together.” Midfielders Andrew Snyder, Tim Faust and Nick DiPietro expect to be central to PJP’s possession-oriented playing style. The Golden Panthers are all about maintaining their upward trajectory. “This year, we’re looking to have a winning record for the first time in the school’s history. While it will be more difficult to make districts this season due to the PIAA reclassification of soccer, we still strive to be part of this post-season play,” Csongradi said.

Pottsgrove

Head coach: Jay Witkowski, 13th season

Last year’s record: 13-10 overall, District 1-AA champions

Players to watch: Seniors Liam Abdalla, GK; Nik Curnew, def.; Will Kaiser, mid.; Jared Krieger, def.; Pat O’Brien, def.; Tyler Rolando, mid.; Jake Spotts, mid.; Nathan Yuchimiuk, fwd.

Outlook: The Falcons won the District 1-AA championship for the first time since 2008 last season. They’re out for a encore this season with the same cast of characters – 14 players with varsity experience are back – including All-Area first team midfielder Tyler Rolando and second team midfielder Will Kaiser. Pottsgrove will be favored to maintain its place atop the Frontier Division and contend for a PAC title. It will be a different, more daunting landscape in Class AAA – the Falcons were annually one of only a handful of contenders in AA – but Pottsgrove is equipped this season to make some noise at the district level.

Pottstown

Head coach: Manny Paez, 1st season

Last year’s record: 1-12 PAC, 3-15 overall

Players to watch: Seniors Carlos Lopez, mid.; James Coleman, mid./def.; Eddie Butler, def. Sophomore Manny Paez, mid.; Martin Alvarenga, fwd.

Outlook: New head coach Manny Paez formerly was an assistant under nine-year coach Jason Pace and was most recently working with younger age groups in an attempt to build the Pottstown soccer program. A Pottstown graduate himself, Paez returns to the high school level and is bringing the power of positivity. “It’s a year to develop and change the perception around Pottstown soccer. It’s a new start. I’m excited and looking forward to all the new possibilities,” Paez said. Paez isn’t naive to the road that lies ahead with only three seniors and a roster of 23 – “I’m pretty happy about that,” Paez said about this season’s turnout – but is undeterred. “We’ll have a challenging year but we’re looking forward to it with a new attitude and will try to leave a legacy behind,” Paez said.

Spring-Ford

Head coach: Brent Kissel, 1st season

Last year’s record: 7-3-3 PAC, 7-8-3 overall

Players to watch: Seniors Tyler Holms, mid; Kyle Allan, GK; Drew Rheaume, def.; Chase Parr, mid.; Michael Hyduke, fwd. Juniors Ronnie Minges, mid.; Nathan Alban, fwd.; Cole Dampf, def. Sophomore Sal Ibarra, mid.

Outlook: Relatively speaking, it’s been a lean couple years for the Rams. Surprisingly in the basement of the PAC Liberty Division in 2014, then rebounding to 7-3-3 in the league but a losing record (7-8-3) overall in 2015, Spring-Ford looks become a PAC contender once again with eight-year assistant Brent Kissel entering as head coach after the departure of coach Doug Landis. The Rams return Kyle Allan in goal and will look for midfield trio Tyler Holms, Chase Parr and Ronnie Minges to control play. “Our team continually wants to be competitive not only in the PAC but also in the district playoffs,” Kissel said. “Spring-Ford has not won a PAC (championship) since 2013 and is eager to get back to its championship form.”

Upper Merion

Head coach: Tom Dodds, 23rd season

Last year’s record: 6-6-2 SOL American, 7-8-2 overall

Players to watch: Seniors Alan Castillo; Tim Bielgalski. Sophomore Trevor Looby.

Outlook: Upper Merion pushed up the standings in the Suburban One League American Division last season. Now, they’ll attempt to do the same in the PAC Frontier Division. The Vikings will be an interesting addition to a division that’s been owned by Pottsgrove with the second spot in the PAC playoffs up for grabs. Upper Merion will be led by returning SOL American first teamer Alan Castillo and will hope to push for the Frontier’s second Final Four spot and potentially a place in the newly-aligned District 1-AAA playoffs.

Upper Perkiomen

Head coach: Kyle Fisher, 3rd season

Last year’s record: 1-12 PAC, 1-17 overall

Players to watch: Seniors Jake Vogel, def.; Dakota Jamison, def.; Eli Barker, mid.; Elijah Wadsworth, mid. Juniors Ryan Casola, mid.; Cameron Marshall, def.

Outlook: Third-year coach Kyle Fisher is preaching defensive discipline as the Tribe tries to improve on last year’s one-win campaign. “We return our starting midfield as well as two key defensive players. Our goal is to play a disciplined defensive game,” Fisher said. Upper Perk hopes that approach will allow them to play closer with the rest of the Frontier Division. “We’ve taken some baby steps over the past two season and hope we can add to our win column while shrinking our overall negative goal differential,” Fisher said.

* * *

Daniel Boone

Head coach: Matt Kade, 4th season

Last year’s record: 11-10 overall, District 3-AAA second round

Players to watch: Seniors Greg Blume, mid.; Tyler Brown, def.; Jamie Burns, fwd.; Matt Glady, mid.; Matt Lambert, mid.; Ayoub Mouhou, mid. Junior Ben Hofmanner, def.; Carter Ferguson, fwd.

Outlook: The Blazers plan to keep it high octane in 2016. It’s become the identity of Matt Kade’s teams and the coach expects the attack to be a strength again. “We have several players who can get forward and contribute to our potent attack that should give opposing teams trouble,” Kade said. Seniors Greg Blue and Jamie Burns, both all-Berks I selections in 2015, will lead the charge. The complexion of the Blazers’ postseason aspirations has changed with Boone being the second-largest AAA school in District 3. The Blazers are a virtual lock to make the field and will have a legit shot at being one of the four teams to qualify for the PIAA Championships. “Our team has goals of competing for a county championship and making a run in the district playoffs that will hopefully lead to a state playoff berth,” Kade said.

The Hill School

Head coach: Chris Drowne,

Last year’s record: 10-6-3 overall

Players to watch: Postgrad Aiden Perry, GK. Seniors Toni Adewole, mid./def.; Ethan Norton, def.; Jake Fetterman, def. Juniors Nick Bell, mid.; Ryan Wallace, fwd.

Outlook: Head coach Chris Drowne termed last season as ‘semi-rebuilding.’ It netted a respectable if underwhelming 10-win season. With eight returning starters, led by two-time all-MAPL first teamer Toni Adewole, and a few intriguing additions like postgrad goalkeeper Aiden Perry (two-time All-New England first team at Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass.), Hill appears closer to being a contender again in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League and the Pa. Independent Schools Athletic Association, which they were the champions of in 2013 and 2014. “Our defense should be much improved, especially thanks to an entirely veteran midfield comprised mostly of juniors,” coach Chris Drowne said. “Our midfield is all returning and very experienced, as well as interchangeable. Our back line and keeper situation should click much sooner than last year.” Defense is certainly on the mind of Drowne after late-season troubles in 2015. “Last year we did not have a clean sheet after September 29th, so that must be rectified immediately,” Drowne said. If it gets taken care of, the Blues should be back. “We expect to compete for what would be our eighth MAPL title, as well as get a strong seed for PAISAA after not reaching the championship for the first time.”

Perkiomen School

Head coach: Julian Lopez, 1st season

Last year’s record: 10-12 overall

Players to watch: Seniors PK Arthur, fwd.; Kentaro Masrin, mid.; Miles Longstreth, mid. Sophomores Tobias Stalmann, mid.; Eduardo Gulin, fwd.

Outlook: It’s a year of change for Perkiomen with new coach Julian Lopez stepping in for longtime coach Mark Longstreth. Lopez, a new Spanish teacher at Perk, played semi-professionally in Argentina and Brazil and is a first-time manager. “The group has adapted well to the new playing styles and philosophies which will be improved upon as the season progresses,” Lopez said. “We have set very high expectations and even though it will be a season of transition the group is very solid and will be a tough opposition for all of our rivals.” Lopez is pleased with the complexion of his roster, which could send find itself with a winning season if it can come together under the new coach. “The squad is looking quite solid, with a strong base of returning upperclassmen who I will be looking towards being my leaders both on the pitch and during training,” Lopez said. Lopez and the Panthers’ eyes are firming forward with sights on a return to the Tri-County League title picture. “I’ve asked my boys to forget about last season as I have not looked at last year’s scores and we will only look towards the future,” Lopez said.

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