Breaking Down the Boys: #WPIAL Soccer Playoff In-Depth Preview, Predictions #RoadToHighmark #PghSoccer

The WPIAL boys playoffs begin this weekend with a full slate of first-round games on Saturday, October 22, in a season that features a new transition from three to four classifications.

(CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO ‘ROAD TO HIGHMARK’ PLAYOFF PREVIEW PODCAST)

As evidence that soccer’s growth in our region is happening before our eyes, after only a handful of teams played soccer in one classification in Western PA, PIAA boys soccer moved to two classifications in 1985.  It stayed that way until 2000, when a third classification was added.

Now, 16 years later, they have increased to four.

The first regular season with four classifications has been completed, and now it’s time for the playoffs!

For the complete look at the brackets in all three classifications, visit Pittsburgh Soccer Report’s High Schools home page.  Finals will be played at Highmark Stadium on November 3, 4, and 5.

WPIAL boys tournaments (4A, 3A, 2A, 1A) will each feature a 16 team tournament with three teams going to PIAA state playoffs (consolation games will decide 3rd pl).

While I’d like to say that we’ll be seeing a lot of high scoring, exciting games with a lot of goals — from my perspective — with so many teams featuring top defensive units, and not as many Division I level players in the attack in the WPIAL this year, it appears we could be getting a lot of close games that will come down to one mistake here to there.

And that’s playoff soccer.  There will be a lot of tense, exciting moments with goals being a commodity.

Here’s my in-depth look at the favorite, contenders along with best 1st round games and predictions of who will win each classification:

Class 1A

CO-FAVORITES

The lowest tiered section in boys soccer has been mostly dominated by two schools in recent years – Seton-LaSalle and Sewickley Academy.

Last year, Seton LaSalle won the WPIAL by beating Avonworth 1-0 in OT, while Sewickley settled for third, needing a 5-0 win to get into the PIAA playoffs.  Still, the Panthers went on to win the PIAA title.  

Both teams look to be serious contenders for WPIAL and PIAA again this season.

With two excellent scorers –  Darryl Daniels and senior forward Chris Stack, Seton LaSalle features the highest scoring outfit in 1A.   Daniels, a transfer from Brashear, is second in the WPIAL with 19 goals. Stack has 13.  

CONTENDERS

Rounding out the top four teams — Greensburg Central Catholic (15-1, 11-1) returns to a similar spot as section champs with a very good record, but face the possibility of having to enormous task of having to beat both Seton LaSalle and Sewickley to win a WPIAL, of which they’ve fallen short in recent years.    

The surprise team to many in the top four may be a young bunch — and a school that I coached at one time (2007 and 2008)– Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic. For the first time in 20 years — the Trojans are in playoffs.  The move to Cranberry finally paid off as coach Jordan Wiegand, who had success at Deer Lakes, has been able to expand his roster pool from the Northern areas of our region with a lot of quality young players.  With only one senior on the varsity roster, the 2016 Trojans improved on a 7-9-1 season last year, and having been a program that won just six games total from 2010-14.  Freshman forward Joe Kearney leads the Trojans in goals. Midfielder Josh Rivetti is the team’s only senior starter.

BEST 1st RD MATCH – Freedom vs Springdale (Saturday, Oct. 24, 2 p.m. at Chartiers Valley)  

JK’s PREDICTION  Sewickley 

Class 2A

FAVORITE 

It’s not often that a team from a smaller school loses more than a dozen seniors, and can replenish and be just as good the next year.   In South Park‘s case, it’s just business as usual.   In a classification where a lot of its key rivals that would be contending for a WPIAL title have moved up to the next level, South Park (15-2-1, 11-0-1) appear to be the favorite to take the title this year with the few returning seniors,  forward Mitchell Roell and Dan Irwin along with goalkeeper Ted Cecotti, the Eagles’ senior captains helped the Eagles stay at a high level despite having many new starters around them.

CONTENDERS

With both finalists from last year, South Fayette and Mars, moving to 3A, there are  contenders from a few established programs (Quaker Valley, Shady Side Academy, Waynesburg Central) and a few others who’ve been able to benefit from some of the bigger schools moving up in class to win section (Freeport) and earn playoff berths (Obama Academy).   

Quaker Valley is coached by former Pittsburgh Riverhounds defender Andrew Marshall — and last won a WPIAL under long time coach Gene Klein in 2012.  Shady Side (another school where I coached for a number of years!) — has had a soccer program since 1928, but has never won a WPIAL — even when competing in the lower tier. With a number of talented players like Brenden Brasinski, they can make a deep run.  Unlike traditional 1A power teams like Seton LaSalle and Sewickley, Shady Side chooses to play up in classification.   

BEST MATCH OF 1st ROUND- Waynesburg vs Mt. Pleasant 

JK’s PREDICTION – South Park

 

Class 3A

mars-soccer
Mars looks to return to the WPIAL finals (Photo Courtesy Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) 

FAVORITES

There doesn’t appear to be a clear-cut favorite in this classification — but there are a handful of quality teams.

After making it to the WPIAL finals in AA last year and losing 3-2 in OT to South Fayette, Mars finds themselves near the top the 3A rankings — coming off an undefeated section run again (11-0-1).  It seems like the Planets are in the mix every year but haven’t won since 08 and 09.

With a talented core of young players who learned during Mars’ run to the 2015 WPIAL Class AA final and an experienced defense that includes three senior returners, Caleb Brake, Lucas Mowery and Colton Cyphert — Mars’ back line has posted nine shutouts.

Montour have been a bit of a surprise, winning a section title (a strong section 2) for the first time in a decade. Like Mars, they’ve relied on strong defense – only allowing seven goals all season.  

Thomas Jefferson after being in same section with South Park for many years, finally broke through to win its section as they made the jump to 3A classification.  That being said, they’re not even the hottest team in their section.  They split the season series with Chartiers Valley team coached by former Pittsburgh Spirit player Dave MacKenzie who gets some help from his sons (Travis and Derek former Riverhounds).   Char Valley have run off eight straight wins, including stepping out of section to beat 4A Upper St. Clair and the top team in 1A, Seton LaSalle.

Belle Vernon (13-3, 9-1) is another team that has moved up to the 3A level, as a perennial contender, but won its first section title since 2010 this season.  This is an experienced group — with nine starters from a playoff team a year ago — so never discount a team laden with seniors and experience.  The Leopards have never won a WPIAL title in soccer — and who knows — they could make a run to Highmark Stadium.  

BEST MATCH UP OF 1st RD – Moon vs South Fayette –  South Fayette are the defending WPIAL (AA) champs, but could only finished fourth in section with a  5-5 record.  They will face a Moon team that “dropped down” in class, but are playing well, winning four in a row.  

JK’s PREDICTION – Chartiers Valley

 

Class 4A

seneca-boys
Seneca Valley boys have only given up two goals this season.  (Photo Courtesy Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

The top tier of boys soccer in WPIAL has been ruled by the South Hills teams in the past decade plus.  The combination of teams that include Peters Township, Upper St. Clair, Canon-McMillan (in recent years), Mt. Lebanon and Bethel Park (a bit further in the past), have won every top class WPIAL boys soccer title going back to the late 1990s but one (Plum in 2005).

Last year, Fox Chapel were one minute away — and conceded a penalty kick in the final minute and lost in OT to Canon-Mac.

FAVORITE

But another non-South Hills team rose to the occasion last year in the PIAA playoffs — Seneca Valley (15-0-1, 9-0-1). The Raiders lost to Canon Mac in the WPIAL semifinals, but made a run to Hershey and to the PIAA finals before losing.  They have brought back a lot of returning starters and have been a dominant defensive team this year.

How dominant?  The Raiders have only surrendered two goals — all season.   They are rolling into the playoffs, posting 11 straight shutouts.  Dylan Good has broken the goalie shutout record in just 16 games with 14 shutouts.  

CONTENDERS

We can’t discount the quality of teams in 4A this season, but which one can break through against Seneca Valley?

Peters Township escaped Section 2 as the winners, beating and tying Upper St. Clair in their two matches.

Allderdice -the City League team that has defied the notion that only suburban teams can win WPIAL soccer section titles — have won its second consecutive section title beating out traditionally strong programs like Fox Chapel, Central Catholic and an upstart Plum program.   The Dragons are one of the teams that have shown they can score goals in bunches, and it will be interesting to see how they fare against the stronger defensive units.  They suffered a setback in the playoffs last year, losing to a Kiski team and are eager to have a better result.

Another team that won its section and filled with a lot of senior experience is Section 4 winners Penn Trafford.  The Warriors made Q-finals in 2015.  A speedy attacking unit, they may play direct, but use that to their advantage.

BEST MATCHES of 1st RD –  Canon-Mac (defending, 2x champs) vs Plum (upstart back in playoffs 1st time since 2011 -thanks to senior transfer Brenden Akut – Northeastern bound). One beef I had this year with WPIAL seeding committee was giving C-M home game despite Plum having a better record

Fox Chapel vs North Allegheny – The Tigers had to play second fiddle to Seneca this year, and having been battle tested, this could be a year where they can get on a roll in the playoffs, after having disappointing results in previous years despite high seeds.  The Foxes, a WPIAL finalist and PIAA quarterfinalist a year ago, are a very young team this year – started 4 freshman but have senior forward Mike Snowball and a strong, experienced junior goalkeeper, Jakob Dunn.  

JK PREDICTION – SENECA VALLEY   

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