Order has been restored as DODDS-Europe begins its 2006 girls high school soccer season. Patch is again a defending European champion.

“It’s another season with a target on our backs,” Patch coach Tom Manuel said by telephone Thursday. “I’d like to be the team no one knows about.”

That hasn’t happened in a while. Patch won European titles from 1999-2003, including a 48-game winning streak, before missing out in 2004. A 1-0 victory over Naples in the Division II title game last May restored the Lady Panthers to their customary position.

Patch launches its latest title defense behind two-time All-Europe striker Kylie Marchant, a junior, and returning second-team All-Europeans Samantha Beatty and Laura Ingold. Heather Hall also returns, but a big part of the Lady Panthers’ recent success doesn’t.

“We lost [sweeper Jessica] Russell,” he said. “We have to work on her position.”

Manuel’s biggest problem so far, though, is finding a place to play.

“We have five or six inches of snow on our field,” he said. “We found a little patch of grass about 30 yards by 10 yards the other day. It was big enough to do some drilling, but not much else.”

Snow also has been a problem for defending Division I champ Ramstein, according to coach Ricardo Buitrago.

“It’s kind of frustrating making up the team,” he said Thursday morning of his snow problems. “Monday and yesterday were the first times we’ve been able to get outside.”

Buitrago’s problems are compounded by the fact that the Lady Royals open Saturday with a conference test against Würzburg. He is not alone in that area: The first game for Wiesbaden, under new coach Steve Jewell is also a conference match — at International School of Brussels — and several Division II and III teams also kick off their seasons against league foes.

“Usually, we had a nonconference game to open the season,” said Buitrago, a psychologist by trade. “It’s less stressful.”

But the Lady Royals also have some good news. They welcome back seven starters, including All-Europe midfielder Melissa Hirzel, and 10 returnees in all. In addition, Buitrago has been blessed by transfers — three from Italy and one from Japan.

While only one player from the boys All-Europe first-team is back this year, Hirzel is one of six girls from last year’s sqaud returning this season: Paris Cervantes of Kaiserslautern, Whitney Lynch of Division III champion Sigonella and a trio of Division II stars — Tauree Blankenship of AFNORTH, Kyri Bye-Nagel of Hanau and Anna Schrader of Aviano.

Division IV Alconbury, the fourth defending champ, has a tough opener Saturday at Division I Lakenheath, one of 14 sites hosting games on the first day of the season.

European titles are on the line May 17-20 at a site still to be determined.

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