HEIDELBERG, Germany — As the Heidelberg Lions begin their quest for an unprecedented eighth straight European Division I boys soccer title, coach Larry Heintzman finds himself filled with empathy.

“Now I know how the Yankees and the rest of them feel,” he said with a laugh Wednesday while talking about his team, the winningest in DODDS-Europe history. “Everybody’s out to knock us off.”

Thanks to a surprising tie in the season finale between sixth-seeded Würzburg and second-seeded Ramstein, the Lions (6-0-1 overall 5-0-1 in Division I) go into the tournament as the top seed, a position that becomes important in a seven-team field because No. 1 plays one fewer pool-play game.

Whether teams play two or three games in the two-day pool-play portion of the tournament Thursday and Friday, depth is crucial to keep players fresh.

Heidelberg, fourth-seeded Lakenheath and seventh-seeded Kaiserslautern conclude their pool play Thursday, with the top two teams off until Friday afternoon’s semifinals. The four teams in the other pool have their final pool play action on Friday morning.

The pools are even in the eight-team Division II field, where the top seed is the conference champion and unbeaten AFNORTH Lions (6-0-1) of Gary Blankenship. The defending champion is SHAPE.

Each Division II team has to play a Friday-morning game in advance of the afternoon semifinals.

The schedule is even more compressed in the six-team Division III field, where the semifinals are scheduled for Friday morning and the championship game for Friday evening.

The American Overseas School of Rome Falcons, who were unbeaten in the regular season but are coming off a loss to Naples in the final of the Mediterranean Regional last week, are the defending Division III champions.

Six fields at three locations will be used to accommodate all the games. Two are in Kaiserslautern’s Kapaun Air Station, two are in the town of Huetschenhausen, outside Ramstein Air Base, and the final two are on base — at the high school and at the Ramstein base field.

A look at the teams:

(Listed in order of seeding; Overall, conference records in parentheses)

Division I

1. Heidelberg (6-0-1, 5-0-1, 2004 conference champions, 1997-2003 European champions) — Larry Heintzman has 2003 All-Europe first-teamers Christoph Ascherl, Michael Puppolo, Philip Soriano and Kevin Thorne to fortify his quest for an eighth straight crown. They’re supplemented by returning second-teamer Paul Berger.

2. Ramstein (4-1-2, 4-0-2) — Dan Nukala’s team, which pinned a 1-1 tie on Heidelberg at home April 17, leads with defense of Rob Modlin and goalkeeper Justin Mackey. Tom Lavoie and Mike Hossack handle the scoring.

3. Wiesbaden (4-2-1, 3-2-1) — Ben Arcila’s Warriors will have to make due without Olympic Development Program star Cooper Bryant, who was lost because of a leg injury. Scott Pangrazzi, Daniel Lohmer and Lones Seibert are the mainstays now.

4. Lakenheath (3-4, 2-4) — Garrett Billington’s team keeps things close defensively in front of goalkeeper Chris Beets. Brandan Payne and Nick Kupko can score.

5. International School of Brussels (2-4, 2-4) — Coach Sean Areias calls on Matt Merritt and Idan Meshulam for scoring punch.

6. Würzburg (1-4-2, 1-3-2) — Chris Purdin is most of the show for Sam Ochinang’s team.

7. Kaiserslautern (1-6, 1-5) — Corey Duggan is the scorer for Kevin Thompson’s team.

Division II

1. AFNORTH (6-0-1, 6-0-1, 2004 conference champions) — The Lions, under coach Greg Blankenship, pack plenty of scoring punch in Mike Kinciad, Dominic Breuer and Norwegian star Pal Skangen.

2. SHAPE (5-1-1, 5-1-1, 2002-2003 European champions) — Tony Blasio’s international stars Francisco Gallo, Fernando Labandeira, Gonzalo Alejandre and Santiago Peloche make his team a title contender whatever happens in the regular season.

3. Black Forest Academy (4-2-1, 4-2-1) — Ryan Fultz and Billy Reed operate up front; Scott Custer takes his stand in the nets for Chris Greathouse’s team.

4. Vilseck (4-2-1, 4-2-1) — Jon Reilly, Jamal Johnson and Steve Tracy provide the offense for Kent Basset’s Falcons, who can play defense, too, as evidenced by 2-1 victory over SHAPE on May 8.

5. Mannheim (3-3-1, 3-3-1) — Martin Goering’s young team gets its goals from Sean Kerber, Jimmy Medina and Robert O’Doherty, but its trademark is a tight, aggressive and physical defense.

6. Patch (2-5, 2-5) — Kevin Gear’s and Josh Anderson’s scoring have Todd Taylor’s team on a two-game wining streak going into Europeans.

7. Hanau (1-5-1, 1-5-1) — All-Europe basketball star Marcus Fontanez provides the offense for Travis Schupp’s team.

8. Bitburg (0-7, 0-7) — Jose Tovar’s team found the going tough even before it lost Jordan Matthews to surgery for a broken hand.

Division III

1.Brussels (4-3, 3-3, 2004 III-North tournament champions) — Alex Bodoni scored 10 goals in III-North regional last week to propel Tom Harvey’s Brigands to tournament title and European berth. Kyle Cox, Marc Silos, Lonnie Ruffin, Kevin Nicholson and Dominick Sherenko also excel for Brigands.

2. Naples (4-2-1, 2004 Mediterranean tournament champions) — Peter Nagafuchi’s team got an MVP performance from Keegan Porter and scoring from Taylor Toombs in blanking defending European champion AOSR 3-0 in Med Regional title game.

3. Bamberg (3-2-1, 3-1-1, 2004 III-South tournament champions) — Wade Krauchi’s Barons went to third tiebreaker before winning Regional after scoreless tie in title game against regular-season champion Giessen. Wonzina Collins, Nik Krauchi and Danny and Tommy Spindler are the keys for Bamberg.

4. Giessen (5-1, 4-1, 2004 III-South conference champions) — Robert Acaba’s team didn’t lose until the final game of the regular season behind the scoring of Anthony Moore.

5. American Overseas School of Rome (7-0, 7-0, 2004 ASIL conference champion, 2003 European champion) — Andrea Desideri’s perennial powerhouse is battling injuries.

6. London Central (7-0, 6-0. 2004 III-North conference champions) — Fredo Ontiveros brings in the tournament’s only co-ed squad, led by Levi Porter, Colin Lineberger, Neal Stainbrook, Jeremy Tibbetts, Seth Hansen and Jonathan Stemmel.

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