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Local teams eye boys soccer championships

Northeast Philadelphia has a long tradition of great soccer, and this year local schools should continue to contend for accolades.

Back on top: Sergio Abelardy will be one of the leaders of the Father Judge soccer team, which hopes to return to the top of the Catholic League. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Northeast Philadelphia has a long tradition of great soccer, and last year was no different. In the Public League, Northeast High School continued the excellent run it’s been on as of late, bringing home another championship, and in the Catholic League, both Ryan and Judge hung around with some of the best programs in the state.

This year, local schools should continue to contend for accolades. Both Catholic League teams should contend for top spots in the league, and local teams should once again dominate Public League play.

Here’s a glance at the local teams.

CATHOLIC LEAGUE

Archbishop Ryan

The Raiders seem to be getting better every year, and coach Ryan Haney hopes they can take another step this year. Another thing he wants to do is help his squad win a playoff game.

Last year, after finishing 5–4–2 in Catholic League play, the Raiders lost a tough 1–0 game to St. Joe’s Prep in the quarterfinals, so this year the goal is to go another step.

Leading the team at goalie will be Bryce Fedako. He’ll play behind defenders Bobby McWilliams and Chris Rola, both centerbacks, and Dillon Devlin and Teddy Westervelt, both outside backs.

Midfielders include Josh Young and Tyler Shoemaker, and the offense will be led by Sidiki Fofana, a striker.

The Raiders are a bit younger this year, but the talent is there for a run.
“I want us to grow as a team, get better and improve every day,” Haney said. “The league is always tough, but I think we can compete. We just have to stick together and keep getting better.”

Father Judge

Last year wasn’t a bad one for Judge, but it wasn’t up to its usual standard.

Last season’s 6–11–1 record and sixth-place finish in the division was below its usual standard. The Crusaders struggled down the stretch, losing their last five games, including a playoff match against Archbishop Wood in the PCL quarterfinals.

After a 12–4–1 season the year before, and a trip to the PCL semifinals, the dropoff wasn’t entirely unexpected, as the Crusaders were an inexperienced team with just one returning senior starter.
This year, the Crusaders return a squad replete with veterans, though they lose their top scorer, Marcelo Ibarra, who graduated.

Despite the loss of Ibarra, head coach John Dunlop is confident that his team is well-stocked at each core position.

“We have several core players with some experience in different positions, which will allow us to use the bench,” said Dunlop. “We will be a better team this year, for sure. We’ll get better as the season goes and gain momentum going into the playoffs.”

At midfield, the Crusaders have a bevy of talent, including senior Sergio Abelardy, juniors Michael Fiennman, Ryan Colfer and Michael Martins and freshman Brett Rajowski.

Leading the offense are forwards Michael Steen, Aiden Shane and Mark McDonnell.

On defense, senior Joe O’Neil leads a formidable crew that includes juniors Brendan McCarthy, Jagger Latimer, Walter Fox and Roberto Ciocca and sophomore Owen Ovecka. And goalies will be Tyler Myers and Shane McMenemy.

PUBLIC LEAGUE

Frankford High School

The Pioneers’ new season brings plenty of new faces to the field — and that includes more than just the players. Pete Gabriele is the new head coach, taking over for Rob Shelton, who had served in the role for over a decade.

Gabriele inherits a team known for doing a lot with less. The Pioneers seem to be in rebuilding mode every year, with a crew of newcomers and untested players. They also seem to regularly surprise the Public League by beating some of the league’s top teams and being in playoff contention.

Last year, the team went 6–3 despite being short on returning players. The Pioneers were also one overtime away from advancing to the playoffs.

This year, the Pioneers return three players who could start on any Public League team.
Gabe Elliott, who plays forward and midfielder, is a formidable force on the field who can find a way to score. Forward Luis Reyes is another seasoned player. On the other side of the field, Richard Lugo is a lockdown defender.

Joining the trio will be a number of newcomers ready to benefit from the leadership and experience of their more accomplished teammates.

“A core of returners at every facet of the game will help with transitioning young players into the mix,” said Gabriele. “We have many new players with limited experience, but I think if they work hard and grow together, I can envision us being a playoff-caliber team.”

George Washington

The Eagles will look much different this year.

Last year’s starting lineup, which produced a 9–7–2 record and a trip to the Public League semifinals, is almost entirely gone. That’s one of the downsides of a team comprised mostly of seniors.

This year, head coach Christopher Reid is looking to see what his younger players can do now that they have a chance for more playing time.

If recent history is any indication, these young players should soon be doing quite a lot. Under Reid, the Eagles have a habit of putting together double-digit wins (10–7–2, 13–4–1, 14–4–2 the past three seasons).

“(I’m) looking forward to the challenge of teaching younger and more inexperienced players to play the game the right way,” said Reid. “I hope to get some new players that are willing to learn and compete at a high level to be competitive in a tough division.”

In addition to the newcomers, the Eagles do have a handful of returning players expected to take on a bigger role this year. Look for Decelio Lee, Nazar Perelyhim, Kwes Quainoo, Josh Varghese and Abe Latipov to take over as leaders on the field and in the locker room.

Samuel Fels

In soccer, much like life, the kicks don’t always go your way. The Panthers experienced that last season five times. The Panthers were on the losing side of five one-goal games last year, which unfortunately resulted in an 0–10 season.

While those close games don’t show in the standings, they are important building blocks for head coach Mike Keenan.

“We were a young and inexperienced team last year, but we competed in every game,” said Keenan.

Picking up steam down the stretch, the Panthers finished the season with three close games, including a 4–3 loss to Bodine, a solid team that won six games.

With a more experienced team to start the new season, Keenan hopes to keep the momentum going.

“(I’m) looking for my upperclassmen to lead the way this year, and show our newcomers how we want to play on the field,” said Keenan. “(I’m) already seeing this in practice and have been pleased to see our leaders emerge and lead.”

Senior Maurico Morales will be prowling the midfield for the Panthers, while seniors Koll Kaing, Dieumisonn Brutus and Mateus Da Silva lead the defense.

Joining Morales in the center of the field are junior midfielders Khem Kaing and Oladeji Olayinka-Yusuf. With the hardworking trio in place at the game’s most demanding position, the Panthers have a solid core to build upon.

Coming back from a winless season hasn’t deterred the Panthers, but instead has given the team some extra motivation. And Keenan can’t wait to get his team back on the field to show what they can do.

“The team’s attitude has been very positive and excited for the season to get underway,” said Keenan. “We want to improve each day and are expecting to get back to the playoffs this year.”

Tough to replace: Northeast will have to replace players like last year’s leading scorer Alejandro Giraldo if they hope to win another Public League championship. TIMES FILE PHOTO

Northeast High

Last season was a typical one for the Vikings. They reached double digits in wins (10–5–1), won their division and, for the fourth straight year, won the Public League championship.

Not that it was a particularly easy feat, even for a team as good as the Vikings. The Vikings faced Central in the championship game, a team that had dealt them a 1–0 loss just a few weeks earlier. And Central didn’t make it easy on Northeast in the finals. The game was decided in double-overtime.

What made the season even more impressive was that the Vikings did it with an inexperienced squad, having lost many starters to graduation.

This year isn’t much different, and head coach Kraig Feldman is hoping for a similar result.

“We are young and have a lot of new faces, but we have a group of motivated workhorses that will get the job done,” said Feldman. “Inexperienced guys will have to step up to get the job done, but we are confident that we can accomplish our goals.”

While there are many new faces on the field this season, the defense is backed by a solid core of senior veterans. Zaid Hussein will start at goaltender, with Justin Johnson and Ato Aidoo anchoring the defense.

Three-year starters Youseef Elbehiry and Adrian Conde will be standing tall at midfielder, while Sunnat Abdukhalimo and Robin Hoxha can be counted on to provide the bulk of the scoring.

Philadelphia Academy Charter

At this time three years ago, Chris Schlegel was preparing for his senior year as a midfielder and forward on the Philadelphia Academy Charter soccer team. This year, Schlegel is back on the familiar field as the Chargers’ head coach. Schlegel, who played forward for Penn State Abington before sitting a season out, takes over the reins from Larry Teal, who was Schlegel’s high school coach and mentor.

Though one of the smaller schools in the city, Academy Charter has become a perennial contender, with regular appearances in the Public League playoffs and District 12 championship.

Schlegel is confident in his team’s ability to make a mark in the competitive city soccer landscape.

“I think anything can be done in this league. As a prior Public League athlete, I’ve seen everything from taking second place to just missing the playoffs. I think we’ll have a good playoff run,” said Schlegel. “Every day, we have everyone at practice, they all try hard and they’re all fit. They push themselves to do better every day.”

Senior Justin Delgado is one of the team’s key returning starters. Delgado will play center midfield, while strikers Lou Lare and Tim Devlin lead the scoring charge. Defender Charles Greenwood and goalie Brenden Werner will dominate on defense.

“I think we have a lot of talent,” Schlegel said. “They’re working hard and getting better.” ••

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