The 2013 DODDS-Europe boys soccer season got off to a weather-ravaged two-game start Saturday, with three games across Germany cancelled or postponed.

Too bad. The German schools could have used the head-start.

You’ll find 13 of DODDS-Europe’s 28 boys soccer entries in Germany, including almost all its most-populated schools, but none of its defending champions.

Instead, the seats of European power are situated in Brussels, Belgium, home of Division I champion International School of Brussels; Rome, site of the fierce intracity rivalry between defending champion Marymount and American Overseas School of Rome; and Florence, which supplanted Italian neighbor Sigonella to emerge as the class of the small-school Division III ranks.

This Saturday marks the start of the soccer season in earnest, as Regions I and IV enter the fray as part of a robust 11-game schedule. The season slows for spring break in early April, then accelerates into the European championships, set for May 20 through 23 at the Kaiserslautern Military Community.

Here’s a look ahead at the divisional races:

Division I: ISB ended a long run of reliable title contention last year by actually winning one, shutting out Patch 3-0 to cap an undefeated season and 4-0-1 postseason run.

Now comes the hard part – defending it.

Head coach Phillipe Kaisin can lean on a returning All-Europe trio – Lukas McNaughton, Stijn Kruidenier and reigning Stars and Stripes boys soccer athlete of the year Alessandro Pryce – to position the Raiders for a stout title defense.

The runner-up Panthers enter the season with considerable uncertainty despite returning eight starters from the 2012 championship game. The team’s defining challenge for 2013 is replacing sweeper Drew Nixon and goalkeeper Zach Runnels, both valuable senior leaders and first-team All-Europe selections.

Patch coach Billy Ratcliff said his program plans on “building on what we started” behind a slate of newcomers, including promising goalkeeper Brandon Danielson.

Among German entries Heidelberg, Kaiserslautern, Ramstein, Vilseck and Wiesbaden, it might be coach John Sabala’s Falcons that emerge as a breakout contender. Forward Sage Thornbrugh and midfielder Mark Bussell, both 2012 All-Region selections, lead an underclassmen-heavy roster that Sabala said has “high expectations” for improving on last year’s fourth-place finish.

All-Europe junior midfielder John Arnold, meanwhile, gives rising Wiesbaden a chance to continue its steady climb into contention.

Division II: Black Forest Academy insinuated itself into the traditional all-Italy showdown for Division II honors in 2012, reaching the championship game before falling to Marymount 1-0.

But last year’s breakthrough doesn’t make things any easier in 2013.

The division is still dominated by Marymount and AOSR; the schools played each other in three consecutive title games before BFA broke the streak, and coaches in the know note that both are loaded again this season.

Netherlands-based AFNORTH would like to further chisel away at the division’s established power structure, and may have the tools to do it.

Lions head coach Kevin Padron reports only one lost varsity starter from last year’s 6-4 squad. A fresh crop of midfielders and returning stars like striker Claudius Karich and fullback Gabriel DeSouza make AFNORTH a legitimate threat to the status quo; Padron said he has the Lions’ gaze trained on a top-three finish at Europeans.

Division III: Florence shook up the DODDS-Europe soccer world in 2012, streaking to the title game and shutting out Rota after a one-win regular season. Those two finalists, along with Alconbury, Baumholder, Brussels and Sigonella, should be key players in the struggle for the 2013 crown.

The Jaguars are approaching a full recovery from the exodus of All-Europe and All-Region stars that followed their 2011 championship season.

First-team All-Europe midfielder Brian Thomas has improved each season on the strength of a year-round schedule of school and club soccer and is poised for an outstanding junior year. All-Europe sweeper Peter Swisshelm leads a solid group of four returning seniors, including Antonio Garcia, Dontay Graham and Tristan Morris, while incoming sophomore transfer Abel Ararso has the early look of a difference-maker at midfield.

That sounds like the makings of a championship-level team. But Jaguars coach Phil Andre has learned to expect the unexpected at the small-school level.

“It all depends on the year for Division III,” Andre said. “It’s a question mark going in.”

Twitter: @broomestripes

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