By Neil Geoghegan
@NeilMGeoghegan on Twitter
There may be more, but for the 2021 boys’ soccer campaign, there looks to be at least seven elite teams from Chester County, including Central League power Conestoga and a half-dozen from the Ches-Mont: Unionville, Bishop Shanahan, two from West Chester (Henderson and East) and two from Downingtown (East and West).
The ’Stoga Pioneers went 14-0 a year ago and cruised to a league crown, yet somehow politics and COVID protocols deprived the squad of a postseason berth. The Pioneers are loaded at midfield and on defense in ’21, but will need to replace four top attackers lost to graduation, including Daily Local News Player of the year Tyson Burling.
The 2020 Ches-Mont race was crowded and a bit crazy, and there may be more to come this fall. West Chester East and Downingtown West grabbed a share of the C-M National title, and Unionville prevailed in the American division. All three should be very good once again, but West Chester East may go in as the favorite because the others are facing heavy graduation losses.
“Our team is the deepest we’ve had in years,” said Vikings’ head coach Charlie Dodds. “We only lost three starters from last year.”
The headlining returnee is senior goaltender Johnny Register, who was the area’s best, the league MVP and an All-State selection. Register has a stout and experienced group of defenders in front of him, including seniors Joel Falkenstein, Trey Mullen and David Keith, as well as junior Niklas Nowak.
“Our defense kept us in games last fall and I expect it will carry our team this year as well,” Dodds said.
The scoring load will fall on seniors Jason Leydan, Will Cortese, Jacob McNamee and Liam Miller, along with junior Cruz Vega. The Vikings will also benefit from the addition of junior Brendan Miller, who played for FC Delco Academy for the previous two years. In addition, East hopes to get Tye Greenawalt and Dahmir Steele back from injuries by late September.
“If we can find some goals scorers, this team could have a lot of success,” Dodds said.
Joe Sales is taking over the head coaching reins from his mentor, John Hatt, at Downingtown West, and the Whippets are formidable despite having to replace All-Area picks like center back Ethan Ernst and center midfielder Dylan Englehart. Sales played at West from 2005-08 and was an assistant for an additional four seasons.
“It will be tough losing our spine (Englehart and Ernst), but we had a lot of talent backing them up,” Sales said.
The heart of the ’21 Whippets are senior midfielders Kyle McWilliams and Kevin Schmeidel, and junior forward Matt Lohr, who missed games a year ago due to injuries. A total of 90-plus players showed up for tryouts.
“I know the guys are hungry to win,” Sales said. “It should be a fun season and hopefully a memorable one as we aim to get deep into the playoffs.”
Unionville was propelled by a strong senior class last fall and nobody has more holes to fill than head coach Rich Garber. At the top of the list is main scorer Kyle Ketterer and four-year starter and defensive linchpin Alex O’Leary.
“We do return 15 guys that had varsity experience last year,” Garber said. “We’re hoping the experience they received will help make this team successful. It will depend on leadership and how well this group works together.”
The key returnees are senior defenders Sam Klingenberg and Bryce DeShaies, and top returning scorer Parker Wyatt (Jr.). Senior Peter Murray missed much of last season with injuries, but had three-years of varsity experience. Others to watch include senior forward Zack Jackson and junior midfielder Liam Martin.
The 2020 season was the first time in seven years that West Chester Henderson did not win the Ches-Mont National crown, but the Warriors are a good bet to be in contention this fall. Head coach Dom Popolizio has 10 of 11 starters back, including a proven goalie, a couple quality midfielders and an all-league caliber defender.
“We are setting a goal to win the Ches-Mont title once again,” Popolizio stated.
Tino Kneis garnered first team all-league honors in goal as a junior, and fellow seniors Ethan Jarden and Adam Gomas received all-league honors as well. Defender Noel Kiefer has already committed to play collegiately at Misericordia University.
Don’t be surprised if Bishop Shanahan is also in the mix for a legitimate run at the crown. The Eagles boast a dozen seniors, a bunch of experienced underclassmen and standouts at all levels. The backline is anchored by senior defender Evan Cunningham and senior goalkeeper Bryce Domsohn. Both are four-year starters.
Midfielder Colin Deal is Shanahan’s top two-way threat, and fellow senior Zane Domsohn is another four-year starter at forward and he managed 16 goals in the previous two seasons.
“We have high expectations to compete for a Ches-Mont National title and advance deep into the postseason,” said assistant coach Mike Melesky.
Another squad to keep an eye on is Downingtown East. The Cougars are experienced at every level, and are especially deep at forward with Luc Rising, Liam Quinn and Riley Nassour. In addition, midfielders James Blake and Brendan Rosinisky are technically sound, and defender J.J. Burke controls the back line.
“We will be a tough team to play this season,” said East coach Tom Creighton.
“We will be a handful up top for just about any (opposing) defensive group, our midfielders have great vision and are playmakers, and we have a defensive group that is becoming more and more of a unit.”
With senior Sean Lock and Karl Brandt, Great Valley has one of the best defensive duos in the Ches-Mont. Both were first team all-league picks a year ago. Add in returning seniors Gavin Palmer (midfield) and Dean Finan (forward) and the Patriots have a solid core from a team that went 5-4 and lost in the first round of the districts.
“This group has experience, talent and a commitment to get better every single day,” said head coach Dave Moffett. “They expect to be contending for a Ches Mont title and making noise in the District 1 playoffs.”
The top individual player at Kennett is senior midfielder Gavin Seele, an all-league selection a year ago who has signed to play college ball at Penn. But the Blue Demons have other key contributors in versatile juniors Zach Mannices and Yahir Carbjal. Others to watch are Reagan Peltier and Ryan Barker.
“Defense will be key component to make this season a success,” said head coach Mike Barr.
The goals are modest and reachable at West Chester Rustin, who went 3-3-2 a year ago and missed the postseason. Head coach Ryan Castle has a trio of senior captains who have three-seasons of starting experience at the midfield/forward positions: first team all-league pick Mohamed Hendawy (five goals, three assists), Dimitri Makris (six goals, three assists) and Ryan Seelaus (two goals, assist).
The Knights also have returnees on defense including Andy Sacconmendi (sophomore), Danny Scoffone (junior) and Richard Park (junior), and sophomore midfielder Danny McGonagle.
“We should be competitive in the Ches-Mont and hopefully vie for one of the top 26 spots in districts,” Castle said.
With the graduation of 11 seniors, Avon Grove will be younger, but the Red Devils have a nice mix of returning starters and young talent. Senior Jake VanVoorhees is a proven goaltender, and former keeper Jack McCann (junior) is now freed up to move to the field.
Senior forward Michael Villa, and midfielders Alexander Castano and John Pepe, are also key performers.
“We look forward to our seniors bringing their talents and goal-scoring power like Villa, and Pepe (a junior) is back to control the middle of the field and drive other teams crazy with his technical wizardry and creativity not to mention a cannon of a shot,” said head coach Mark Puican.
The bad news at Coatesville is that head coach Scott Polk has to replace 19 graduated seniors. The good news is that the Red Raiders were just 1-6 a year ago and could benefit from a fresh start.
“I’m really excited about the new blood we have this year,” Polk said. “The kids are working hard, and we expect to be a difficult team to play against.”
The top returnees are senior forward Brandon Pulgarin, and junior midfielders Nate DelSantro and Alex Shultz, Jr.
John Winters replaces Erik Bedolla as the head coach at Oxford, and his main message to the team is: commitment – to hard work, to teammates and to the game. The top returning players are senior striker Juan Romero and senior midfielders Dominik Martinez and Carlos Tapia.
The defense is anchored by Chris Bender (Sr.), Ryan Steinmetz (Jr.) and Oswaldo Lopez (Sr.). There are also some promising newcomers like freshmen Noah Stoltzfus, William Smith and Jack Obenchain.
Outside the Ches-Mont, Conestoga is the team to beat in the Central League and beyond. Longtime head coach Dave Zimmerman has a defense potent enough to win a state title. Defender Simeon Dorsey is a returning all-area first teamer, fellow senior goaltender Charlie Smith is back after surrendering just 0.76 goals per game in 2020, and Lorenzo Vargas-Clarke scored three times and dished out eight assist despite playing on defense.
The midfield is anchored by seniors Sebastian Tis and Colin Wurth, and the top underclassmen may be sophomore defender Brady Costin.
“The biggest question facing the 2021 squad is how to replace the offensive output (lost to graduation),” Zimmerman said.
In a COVID-shortened 2020 season, Malvern Prep had big wins over Archbishop Wood, Roman Catholic and Holy Ghost Prep. And the current Friars have a strong senior class that is particularly talented on defense. Defensive midfielders Johnny Diederich and Gavin Diegidio are standouts, and so is fellow senior goaltender Tyler Lauder.
Midfielder Andrew Carlson and promising forwards Rhett Bower (So.) and Will Perez (Jr.) will provide the offensive punch.
“Key strengths for the team include a full returning backline, a strong central spine of experienced players, depth from the bench and many creative attacking options from the forward line,” said head coach Susan Barr.
At Devon Prep, Siafa Dempster replaces former head coach Tim Lozorko, but there is a complication: Dempster was called up to the Liberian National Soccer Team in mid-August. While he is preparing to play for Liberia in World Cup Qualifying next month, the Tide will be led by assistant coach KB KutuAkoi.
Senior midfielder Chris Walton is a four-year starter, a first-team All-Philadelphia Catholic League pick, and led Devon Prep in goals and assists a year ago. Fellow seniors Jack Friend (forward) Deaglen Slattery are both three-year starters.
“With a direct style that emphasizes a high amount of movement and agility, we will lean on senior leadership in hopes to improve on the 3-2 league record,” said Devon Prep Athletic Director Jason Fisher.
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