by Chris Hunt
As far as I’m concerned, this season of boys soccer has been one of the most competitive I can remember. Heading down the stretch of the I-MECK 4A conference race, Hopewell and North Meck played each other for the league title at North Mecklenburg High School on Oct. 27. The game was held after The Herald Weekly went to print, but it must have been one heck of a game between the two bitter crosstown rivals.
A loss would impact the hard-charging Titans the most because the third-place Lake Norman Wildcats are nipping at their heels. First-place North Meck could have only fallen as far as second place with a loss because it owns the tiebreaker over Lake Norman. Hopewell, who had won four in a row entering the season finale, didn’t have that luxury.
A Titan loss and Lake Norman win at home against underdog Mooresville on the same night, would have dropped Hopewell to third place with a conference mark of 8-4-0. If that’s the case, North Meck will finish 9-1-2 in league play, taking first place and at least one home match in the first round of the 4A playoffs, while Lake Norman (8-2-2) becomes the second seed.
First-year program Hough High is also in the playoff hunt. A win in the season finale against Mallard Creek on Wednesday, Nov. 3, would give the Huskies nine wins, Hough would be a strong candidate for a wild card spot, which would be a nice effort in its inaugural season.
So, if at least five teams are expected to make the 4A bracket, its safe to say there must be some talented players in the league. With that said, before I run out of space, here’s my personal I-MECK 4A all-conference boys soccer team.
I decided to go with a 2-4-4 formation instead of just one forward not because I think 0-0 ties are boring – which I do – but because there are a lot of talented forwards in the league. This way, I don’t have to settle on just one. The first choice was easy because Corey Dennis is by far the best player in the league and my choice for player of the year. His 28 goals and nine assists serve as a strong argument for this lightning-quick forward.
The second selection was a little tougher because I had to choose between Hough teammates Santiago Patino and Nathaniel Goodwin. Goodwin was going to get the nod after collecting six goals and nine assists in the first 14 games, but a late season injury forced him out of the lineup for the last six matches. There isn’t enough body of work to match the talent and production. That’s why Patino is the choice here. He filled in up top for Goodwin and enters the final match of the season with 12 goals.
With four spots here, there’s plenty of firepower at midfield. The uber-talented Anthony Castaneda from Hopewell scored 12 goals this season, but that’s second among midfielders on this team. Vance’s Rodrigo Vasquez plays in the shadow of Dennis, but he still found enough opportunities to shine with 18 goals. He worked so well with Dennis that he leads the I-MECK 4A in assists with 22. The Vance Cougar combo sparked the squad’s high-scoring offense, which led the conference with 53 goals this season. The final two midfield spots go to Lake Norman’s Jordan Chillson (nine goals, three assists) and Mallard Creek’s Cole DeVaul (six goals, five assists).
Most of these guys spent time all over the field, and not just on the back line, but as I think I’ve been very clear: I’d rather lose in a shootout then pack 10 players in the box and hope not to lose. Then again, these four defenders that made my all-conference team aren’t exactly going to let opposing forwards tap dance into the box without a vicious “how-do-ya-do,” if you know what I mean.
Hopewell’s Tyler Roberts is a physical player who turns 50-50 balls into 90-10 balls in his favor. Titan coach Robb Bolar has used him all over the field depending on the opponent and game situation, but I like Robert’s soccer I.Q. and composure on defense to settle the ball in tight situations. You’ll never see this Titan recklessly clear a winnable ball.
Patrick Harrow is another one of my defenders who’s skilled enough to see minutes at forward or in the midfield. One I-MECK 4A conference coach marveled at his ability to get a quick shot off, but I think I’ll use his size and tenacity to muscle opposing forwards away from the net.
Mooresville’s Josh Skidmore is another tough-as-nails midfielder/defender who isn’t scared to attack the other side of the field. Lake Norman’s Marcus Lohrman anchored a stingy defense that allowed just 12 goals this season.
Had all the decisions been this tough, I would have asked my editor to rethink this column. Instead, I had to pick between North Meck’s Jaron Bradley and Lake Norman’s Nick Hensley. That’s like having to choose the between Will Ferrell’s “Old School” or “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” movies. It’s just not fair.
Hensley has committed to play for UNC Charlotte next year, and the word is this fiery keeper can make the most spectacular saves that no one else in the conference can pull off. Then again, coaches around the league rave about Bradley’s positioning and ball distribution skills. It’s the Vikings’ attention to detail and fundamentals that catch their attention.
Look, there’s no wrong answer here, but I couldn’t get past each goalie’s goal differential. Lake Norman surrendered just 12 goals while North Meck has given up 31 this season. I know each defense if different, but Hensley contributed to 10 shutouts, while North Meck denied offenses just three times. Isn’t a keeper’s No. 1 job to keep the ball out of the net? That’s why I went with Hensley.
I can feel the coaches across the league cringing as they read this.
Well, that’s my all-conference team. Sure, I cheated and put some midfielders on defense, but who cares? It’s not like these guys are going to let me form some kind of club team to see if this would really work. Besides, I’m sure they have bigger things to worry about, like the 4A state playoffs.
Good luck, guys!