The start of another DODDS-Europe soccer season means Heidelberg will be chasing another boys Division I title.

So far, it’s eight straight for the Lions. The seniors on this year’s team were in third grade the last time Heidelberg failed to take home the crown and, according to their coach, this year’s team doesn’t want to be the one to end the run.

“I don’t worry about it,” Larry Heintzman said of the string, “but the kids are worried. They’d like to do it again.”

As always, keeping the streak intact won’t be easy. Crown No. 8 came via a 1-0 overtime victory last May against a Wiesbaden team as talented as the Lions.

This season shouldn’t be any different. Heidelberg returns second-team All-Europe midfielders Ryan Puppolo and Kevin Thorne, but lost first-team midfielder Michael Puppolo to a knee injury.

“It’ll be a challenging year,” Heintzman said. “The league gets tougher every year, and they’re all gunning for us.”

Part of the challenge will again come from Wiesbaden, whose two first-team All-Europeans, junior striker Lones Seiber and senior keeper Dan Parker, return for coach Ben Arcila.

The bounty doesn’t end there.

“Standouts like Matt Alexander, Paul Fry, Chris Kitterman and Dan Lohmer will give us experience and aplomb on defense,” Arcila wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

Ramstein said farewell to its only 2004 All-European, Matt Irwin, but the Royals always have a presence on the pitch. Würzburg returns nine starters this season, the first for Wolves’ coach Mike Whitescarver.

Kaiserslautern, Lakenheath and International School of Brussels round out the D-1 race.

Division II

Things should be just as tight in Division II, in which Black Forest Academy surprised the field last season and took a 4-1 shootout victory over Vilseck in the European title game.

Scott Custer, the keeper who saved two penalty kicks in the shootout, returns along with four other seniors.

And the Falcons aren’t looking back.

“We don’t see ourselves as defending a championship,” coach Charles Greathouse said. “We see a championship out there, and see ourselves going after it.”

BFA will have company.

AFNORTH, 2004’s third-place team, got 36 goals from All-Europeans Pal Skaugen and Mike Kincaid. Both are back, said coach Greg Blankenship, who will team them with 6-foot-2, 200-pound sweeper Stian Standahl and a talented corps of midfielders.

Vilseck, with All-Europe keeper Kevin Pollock returning, is expected to contend again, while Hanau will blend Olympic Development Program freshmen Blake Langford and Juan Agosto with striker Marcus Fontanez and midfielder Brett Noll in the Panthers’ attempt to join the race.

Mannheim again finds itself rebuilding, this time around all-conference performer Robert O’Doherty. Patch and SHAPE, drawing as always on skilled players from NATO nations, also figure into the picture.

As they did in volleyball and basketball, Italian schools Aviano and Naples will play in Division II in the Europeans. Naples, which dropped the Division III title game to perennial power American Overseas School of Rome 2-1 in OT last year, returns eight players, including title-game mainstay Mike Monaco, according to coach Peter Nagafuchi.

Division III

Two-time defending champion AOSR is an automatic among the contenders. Chasing it will be Italian rival Milan and last year’s III-South champions, Giessen. The Griffins return seven from last season’s team, coach Robert Acaba said.

Ansbach’s Marcus George, who has guided the Cougars football team to three straight European crowns, turns his hand to soccer this spring with a roster of 11 freshmen. Returning goalkeeper Tyler Sherman, a sophomore, made an impression.

In the same situation is Baumholder, whose lineup is dominated by freshmen and sophomores, coach Dave Schwab said. They’ll rally around striker Zain Shah, midfielder Michael Walker and sweeper Patrick Washington.

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