The Japan Soccer League championships meant little for the Yokota boys and Kinnick girls as the Far East Class AA soccer tournaments began Monday.
Unbeaten in 16 matches entering the girls tournament on Okinawa, the Red Devils endured an awakening as they fell 1-0 to Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference runner-up Seoul American, then lost 2-0 to Okinawa Activites Council runner-up and two-time Far East runner-up Kubasaki.
Meanwhile, Yokota’s boys started the Class AA tournament in a manner befitting their 15-3-1 record, as the Panthers mauled Zama American 6-0. But along came Kubasaki, which buckled down defensively and blanked Yokota 4-0.
Such stunning verdicts simply go with the territory, Kinnick coach Nico Hindie said.
“The tournament is the tournament,” he said. “You could be the worst team in the league or the best team in the league. We’re all starting from scratch. We played really well today. The ball just wouldn’t fall in.”
As the Red Devils couldn’t cash in on what scoring chances they had, neither could the Panthers’ boys. In the first half against Kubasaki, they mounted rush after rush but couldn’t find the net before the Dragons settled the issue with three second-half goals.
Yokota’s and Kinnick’s comeuppances meant little in the grand scheme of things, since they occurred during the two-day round-robin phase of the tournaments. Following pool play, the teams will be seeded according to their records into the single-elimination playoffs, which start Wednesday and conclude with Friday’s championship matches.
“It’s better that it happened today than on Wednesday,” Hindie said.
For every team in each tournament, Monday and Tuesday served as a “feeling out process,” as Kubasaki boys coach Chris Kelly called it. For the most part, teams played teams they’d not seen during the regular season, so scouting and learning opponents’ tendencies became the order of the two days.
“That’s part of the equation," said coach Steve Boyd of Seoul American’s boys, runners-up in KAIAC who lost 4-0 to Kubasaki and tied Guam High 3-3 on Monday.
“You see some of the same coaches and you remember their tendencies from the past,” Boyd said, adding that whether the foe is familiar or not, “in 10 or 15 minutes, you figure out who their key players are, how they move the ball, who are the strong defenders.”
Coaches try to discourage their players from judging teams on their win-loss record or reputation.
“As long as they have no preconceived notions, just go in and play our game instead of their game, then we’re OK,” said Kinnick’s boys coach Bill Schofield.
While the JSL champions took their lumps, one of the “usual suspects,” two-time defending girls Class AA champion Kadena, looked as if it hadn’t lost a step, winning twice by a combined 18-1 count, including a 7-0 shutout of perennial power American School In Japan.
“We wanted to start well, no matter which team it was,” said Kadena center-midfielder Dianne Abel, the Pacific’s all-time goal leader with 157.
Of the notion of facing unfamiliar teams, Abel said the Panthers were nervous in the pre-game huddle, “but we likened it to playing a Japanese team. We never know what they’re like. So we just relax and play like we know how.”
On the other side of the coin, one team not expected to do well, Guam High’s boys, who placed a school-best seventh last year, emerged as an early surprise, edging Zama American 2-1 in addition to tying Seoul American.
The Panthers entered Far East with a major disadvantage, since their regular season concludes in December. And their players are mindful of their past reputation as an “automatic W” for their opponent.
“Not any more, we aren’t,” said striker Allen Moos. “We came here to play. We plan to go all the way this year.”
Both boys and girls fields seemed “wide open,” in Hindie’s and other coaches’ words, after one day of play. Hindie singled out Kadena, Seoul American, ASIJ, Kubasaki and his own Red Devils, despite their Monday performance, as teams to watch for.