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Defending D-I champs face tough tests

Black Forest Academy's Jurian Van den Berg, left, and Kaiserslautern's Conner Mackie battle for the ball in Kaiserslautern, Germany, on Saturday, March 17, 2018.

MICHAEL B. KELLER/STARS AND STRIPES

By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 3, 2018

Both of DODEA-Europe’s reigning Division I soccer champions will be on the field Friday as the Kaiserslautern Raiders visit the Wiesbaden Warriors. And both find themselves in the midst of a challenging title defense that has seen several contenders apply to supplant them.

The Kaiserslautern boys have inevitably come down from the heights they reached in the spring of 2017, when a star-studded, senior-heavy roster delivered the Raiders a long-awaited championship. The cost of that euphoric title was a purge of talent and experience that left Kaiserslautern looking at a rebuild.

The Raiders scored just three goals in as many games prior to spring break but have found their rhythm since, routing Alconbury and old nemesis Lakenheath by a combined score of 15-1. But Wiesbaden will test the sustainability of the Raiders’ offensive resurgence; the Warriors have yielded just two goals over the course of a strong 5-1 start to the season.

The Wiesbaden girls, who bested favored Stuttgart in a title-game shootout last spring, have followed a similar path as their fellow Division I champions in Kaiserslautern.

The Warriors started their season with a discouraging 5-1 loss to Stuttgart in a rematch of the 2017 final, then took a 4-2 loss to consistent contender Ramstein a week later. But Wiesbaden responded with an offensive explosion, scoring a combined 23 goals in four runaway victories.

Just as the Wiesbaden boys figure to give the reigning Raiders a hard time, so too should Kaiserslautern’s solid girls squad test the mettle of the Warrior girls. The Raiders bring the momentum of a 5-0 shutout of Lakenheath into the weekend.

Both defending champions could use a win to keep pace in among deep fields of Division I title hopefuls. With just two weekends to play before the tournament, the Kaiserslautern boys and Wiesbaden girls are looking at middle or low seeds in their respective brackets barring a late-season push, making the task of a successful title defense all the more difficult.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

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