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Red-hot Warriors headline fresh batch of Division I soccer frontrunners

By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 23, 2019

Wiesbaden boys soccer coach Ben Arcila listed a number of schools he perceives as legitimate contenders for the 2019 DODEA-Europe Division I championship. Then, with the blend of confidence and humility that has become the Warriors’ ethos, he included his own team on that list.

“We see ourselves in that group too,” Arcila said.

The Warriors are certainly playing like they belong. Their 2-1 victory over the Ramstein Royals on Saturday knocked their rival from the ranks of the unbeaten while extending Wiesbaden’s own season-opening win streak to four games.

“The chemistry of this group is exceptional,” Arcila said. “They relate well and respect each other.”

Wiesbaden has long been a formidable presence in Division I. What has eluded the Warriors is a signature achievement in the European championship tournament. Kaiserslautern broke through to win the last two large-school titles after years of close calls, while Lakenheath and Stuttgart have enjoyed memorable underdog runs to the European title match in recent years. This might be the year for Wiesbaden to enjoy its own defining moment.

“Motivation is a big factor this year,” Arcila said.

That largely stems from Wiesbaden’s 4-1 loss to Kaiserslautern in a spirited semifinal matchup last spring. While it was the Raiders who emerged victorious in that game and went on to capture their second straight European title, the Warriors also gained something from the experience, along with the victory they recorded over Ramstein in the division’s third-place game the following day.

“The kids learned from last year that they could play evenly with the bigger schools,” Arcila said. “We were just a step away from the championship game. They felt third place could have been first or second.”

That opportunity is there for the Warriors this spring. Rebuilding Kaiserslautern is a long shot to win a third straight crown; Wiesbaden handled the Raiders 2-1 in an early-season meeting this spring. Perennial contender Ramstein is tough but beatable, as Wiesbaden proved Saturday. Returning runner-up Stuttgart lost its divisional opener to Ramstein.

With those recent powerhouses absorbing losses, Wiesbaden is one of three rising programs sitting atop the Division I standings with less than a month to go before the European tournament. The SHAPE Spartans have rattled off impressive wins over Lakenheath, Kaiserslautern and Vilseck. Naples routed Vicenza in its only divisional game to date, but will be tested further this weekend in matchups with Kaiserslautern and Wiesbaden.

As promising as it’s been to date, Arcila knows his team has a long way to go to fulfill its ultimate goal. But the Warriors believe they’ve found the proper approach to the challenge.

“Our mantra is to enjoy the success but remain humble and focused,” Arcila said. “They know what matters is the tourney.”

broome.gregory@stripes.com

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