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May 18, 2017
The crowd of contenders in the 2017 DODEA-Europe boys soccer championships began to disperse Thursday as elite Division I and II squads played their way into Friday’s elimination round.
Meanwhile, late-arriving Bahrain and the five teams that comprise the Division III bracket made their tournament debuts on the second day of the four-day event held at sites around Kaiserslautern, Germany.
No. 1 seed Kaiserslautern will face SHAPE and No. 2 seed Naples will take on Ramstein in the Division I semifinal matchups Friday at Reichenbach-Steegen. Friday morning’s pool play finale between Bahrain and Florence will determine a fourth Division II semifinalist to join Marymount, Aviano and American Overseas School of Rome.
The tournament wraps up Saturday with six boys and girls European championship matches at Kaiserslautern High School.
Division IKaiserslautern 5, Lakenheath 0: Thursday's late meeting between local archrivals Kaiserslautern and Ramstein was anticlimactic, as both teams had already secured their spots in the semifinals. But if both teams win their games Friday, their next meeting will be anything but.
Ramstein clinched its spot in the final four with a scoreless tie against Vicenza, a result that continued a dangerous but inarguably successful season-long trend of close final margins.
Kaiserslautern, meanwhile, perpetuated its own season-long habit with the latest in a spring full of explosive offensive efforts. Alexander Dexter scored four goals in the dismantling of the fifth-seeded Lancers.
Ironically, the speedy striker is expanding his game this spring by slowing things down on the pitch. “I’m calmer this year, a bit more experience. I kind of know what to look for,” Dexter said. “In the past I would have been rushing.”
The victory was especially sweet for Kaiserslautern given the fact that the Lancers ousted the Raiders from last year's tournament on a devastating penalty-kick semifinal shootout.
“It feels so good,” said Dexter, who admitted to lingering animosity towards Lakenheath stemming from last year’s stunning ouster.
Though only semifinal seeding was at stake in the match, Kaiserslautern earned another psychological boost late Thursday with a 3-0 shutout of Ramstein.
Naples 1, Stuttgart 0: While Kaiserslautern and Ramstein cleanly qualified in one pool, the opposite side of the bracket was far less tidy.
The Wildcats’ gritty win over the Panthers was representative of the evenly matched battles waged in the five-team pool over the tournament’s opening two days.
Naples unleashed several solid first-half shots that either went awry or were turned away, including a penalty kick denied by Panther keeper Evan Stuber just before halftime that seemed to swing momentum to sixth-seeded Stuttgart’s side.
But the second-seeded Wildcats continued plugging away, and their efforts finally found purchase deep into the second half when freshman Nikolas Mihalik controlled the ricochet off a corner kick and fired the game’s only goal into the net.
“My coach is always telling me, if you’re in the right position, you will score,” Mihalik said. “So that’s what I did.”
After Naples defeated Stuttgart, four of the pool’s five teams still remained alive for a semifinal berth. That included SHAPE and defending champion International School of Brussels, who helped muddy the pool earlier Thursday by playing to a 1-1 tie.
The Wildcats settled the issue late Thursday with a 2-1 defeat of SHAPE. That clinched the top spot for Naples, while SHAPE settled for the pool’s second semifinal berth. Despite the chaos that unfolded in the interim, that lined up with the pre-tournament seeding for No. 2 Naples and No. 3 SHAPE, who join No. 1 Kaiserslautern and No. 4 Ramstein in the semifinals.
Division IIAviano 1, Black Forest Academy 0: The fourth-seeded Saints ousted the top-seeded Falcons and claimed their own semifinal spot with a narrow afternoon victory.
Sophomore Logan Hinchcliff scored the match’s only goal off an assist by Jason Valladares Rivera about 15 minutes into the first half. From there, the Saints held on through equal parts tactics and determination.
“We kept our heads in the game, played our game, played our hearts out,” Hinchcliff said.
Positioned among a mix of contenders chasing powerhouse Marymount, Aviano is focused on controlling its own fate in the tournament.
“We haven’t been thinking about the championship, the semis,” Hinchcliff said. “Just one game at a time, and you know, things will come for us.”
Aviano beat eighth-seeded Rota 3-1 earlier in the day behind a pair of goals from Hayden Roers and a goal by Valladares Rivera.
Fifth-seeded American Overseas School of Rome claimed the pool’s other semifinal spot despite a 3-2 loss to Black Forest Academy early Thursday. AOSR’s Wednesday wins over Aviano and eighth-seeded Rota were good enough to send the Falcons into the elimination round.
Marymount 1, Bahrain 1: A rematch of the 2015 Division II European championship match kept Bahrain alive in the tournament while having no effect on Marymount’s latest march through the postseason.
The Royals, who claimed their title back from Bahrain after the upstart interrupted their dynasty with a win on penalty kicks two years ago, cruised to three multiple-goal victories before the late draw with their old nemesis. Second-seeded Marymount beat Bitburg 3-1 and Florence 5-2 on Wednesday, then handled AFNORTH 7-2 early Thursday to lock up their semifinal berth.
The pool’s other semifinal qualifier will be determined by Friday morning’s pool-play finale between Bahrain and Florence, a match that was moved to the same day as the semifinals due to Bahrain’s late arrival in Germany this week.
Division IIIThe Brussels Brigands emerged as the breakout team of the first day of small-school round-robin play with a pair of shutout victories. Brussels beat Hohenfels 7-0 and Ansbach 2-0.
The goals came easily and often for the Brigands in their opening mercy-rule rout of Hohenfels, aided by a red card against a key Tigers midfielder in the game’s opening minute. Paul Hubbard provided the bulk of the offense with four goals.
“They were giving me good through passes,” Hubbard said of his teammates. “It was just finishing from there.”
That’s an encouraging sign for a Brussels team that has battled through injuries all spring and appears to be rounding into form at the ideal time. Alex Crowson contributed three assists and Noah Gray had two goals and two assists in the Hohenfels win.
“Everyone’s healthy again, and we like to see that we’re playing as a unit,” Hubbard said. “It’s definitely giving us confidence going into the next day, and hopefully into the championship.”
The Brigands’ schedule gets tougher as round-robin play wraps up Friday. Brussels faces defending champion Alconbury in a rematch of last year’s title match, then takes on fellow strong contender Sigonella.