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PAC Boys Soccer Final Four Preview

The dust has settled after the most dramatic run-in to the Pioneer Athletic Conference boys soccer playoffs since the Final Four format began in 2005.

The entire, parity-filled fall led up to a final day of the regular season last Thursday with every contender saying ‘Just get in.’

In are Phoenixville – the Frontier Division champion, No. 1 seed and only team that clinched prior to the final day – Liberty Division champion Spring-Ford and wild-cards Perkiomen Valley and Upper Merion.

The semifinals are set for 5 p.m. Tuesday at Owen J. Roberts. The matches will go on concurrently with No. 1 Phoenixville and No. 4 Upper Merion meeting in Wildcat Stadium while No. 2 Spring-Ford and No. 3 Perkiomen Valley face off on Wildcat North.

Here’s a look at the Final Four matchups:

Phoenixville (1) vs. Upper Merion (4)

Phoenixville’s Kyle Tucker carries the ball downfield as he’s defended by Pope John Paul II’s Salvatore Marano. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Records >> Phoenixville: 10-0 PAC Frontier, 12-1 PAC, 16-1-1 overall, ranked No. 3 in the District 1-3A power rankings.

Upper Merion: 6-3-1 PAC Frontier, 8-4-1 PAC, 9-8-1 overall, ranked No. 6 in the District 1-3A power rankings

Head-to-head >> The Phantoms won both meetings – 1-0 on Sept. 15 and 3-1 on Oct. 12.

Playoff history >> Phoenixville returns to the Final Four after a one-year break in the league’s first season shifting its playoff format to division champions and two wild-cards (instead of top 2 from each division). It is the Phantoms’ third semifinal trip in four years. … It is Upper Merion’s first PAC semifinal since joining the league in 2016.

On Phoenixville >> The Phantoms, under coach Mike Cesarski, have been a revelation in 2017, rising up from 9-9-1 in 2016, to a high-scoring force. Senior midfielder Kyle Tucker, who played his first three years at the academy level with Continental FC, has been a game-changer, bringing together a full-throttle attack that also features seniors Jared Carboy, JT Stevens and Danny Jackson.

On Upper Merion >> The Vikings, under longtime coach Thomas Dodds, gained the fourth PAC playoff spot on a tiebreaker over Methacton thanks to a head-to-head 2-1 win on Sept. 23. Upper Merion is led by junior midfielder Trevor Looby, senior Lorenzo Mancino and sophomores Sam Tepe and goalkeeper Dylan Castillo.

Matchup >> Upper Merion has done relatively well to keep the flying Phantoms in check in their two meetings and will need that and more to close down the top seeds. With the bodies Phoenixville commits forward, a counterattacking style will serve UM well. The best laid plans only go so far against a team that has scored 76 goals and conceded 13, though.

Prediction >> Phoenixville 3, Upper Merion 1

Spring-Ford (2) vs. Perkiomen Valley (3)

Boyertown’s Ben Wise and Spring-Ford’s Ronnie Minges vie for a header Tuesday. (Austin Hertzog – DFM)

Records >> Spring-Ford: 6-1-3 PAC Liberty, 8-2-3 PAC, 12-2-4 overall, ranked No. 6 in the District 1-4A power rankings.

Perkiomen Valley: 7-3 PAC Liberty, 10-3 PAC, 12-5 overall, ranked No. 12 in the District 1-4A power rankings.

Head-to-head >> Spring-Ford won both regular-season meetings – 3-1 on Sept. 8 and 1-0 on Oct. 4.

Playoff history >> Spring-Ford lost in the semifinals to last year’s champion Boyertown, 2-1, the team’s first playoff trip since 2013. In 2013, the Rams won their second PAC championship (2010, 2013), defeating Perkiomen Valley on penalty kicks (4-3) after a scoreless regulation and overtime. That was PV’s most recent visit to the Final Four.

On Spring-Ford >> The Rams have been grinding out results and are quietly unbeaten in their past nine games. One of those games includes a 1-0 win over PV with Ronnie Minges’ goal providing the difference. The senior playmaker will be out of the semifinal – he suffered a shoulder injury in the aforementioned game – but the Rams will be in good hands with midfielders Johnny Guimaraes and Sal Ibarra, forward Nate Alban, defenders Cole Dampf and Calvin Thomas and goalkeeper Hunter Hudak leading the way. Hudak saved a penalty kick against Owen J. Roberts in the finale to enable S-F to win the division title.

On Perkiomen Valley >> The Vikings won the most games in the division (7) but lost a tiebreaker to Spring-Ford (head-to-head) for the crown. They’ve won eight of their last 10 – all  via shutout – including a 1-0 win over Phoenixville, the Phantoms’ only defeat of the year. Senior goalkeeper Andrew Daubenspeck commands his area like no other keeper in the league to lead the way. The midfield trio of Mike Weir, Matt McCabe and Matt Holmes has proven very capable, and aid the defensive effort led by center backs Andrew Zielke and Jake Rogers. Brian Love and Max Chamorro lead the line.

Matchup >> A high-scoring game wouldn’t appear to be in the cards with two teams who know each other well and are not the most attacking sides. Add in the tension of a playoff meeting with your archrival, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the first goal be the only goal. Spring-Ford may have the talent edge but PV will lean on its scrappiness, exactly what the Final Four demands.

Prediction >> Perkiomen Valley 1, Spring-Ford 0

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