Win, lose or draw, Heidelberg will furnish the big story in the DODDS-Europe boys soccer season, which opens its seven-game regular-season run Saturday.

Lions coach Larry Heintzman will be wrapping up his John-Woodenesque Heidelberg career at the European Division I tournament in May, when he goes for his 12th European title in 15 years at the school.

However, Heintzman, who began his DODDS-Europe coaching career in 1974 at Zweibrücken, Germany, said there’s nothing particularly different about preparing his team for one last run.

“Not really,” Heintzman said Tuesday when asked whether the final season feels any different from all those that have gone before. “It’ll be a wide-open season.”

That’s probably why things feel the same. It’s always wide open in D-I, said Heintzman’s old associate at Zweibrücken, Ramstein coach Dan Nukala.

“I think it’s the same old, same old in Division I,” Nukala wrote in an e-mail Monday to Stars and Stripes. “Heidelberg is always tough to beat. They are disciplined and determined. Wiesbaden had a very young team last year and has much of that team back, so they’ll be good.

“Patch is an unknown quantity in Division I, but they’ve always held their own in Division II, for sure. Lakenheath always puts together a good team by tournament time, and ISB (International School of Brussels) gets those great international players together and makes good things happen.

“I think K-town is due for an upswing, too. They have a good core of players coming back.”

For his final run, Heintzman will be able to call on returning All-European striker Sean Kerber, a 17-goal scorer in 2006, for the third season in a row. Second-team All-European Andrew Harrington also returns.

Graduation changed Ramstein, but Nukala says most of his offense returned, along with All-Europe defender Michael Soto and aggressive goalkeeper Kris Lusk.

SHAPE, with its international cadre, is the defending champ in D-II and has to be considered in the mix again. It will be challenged by Black Forest Academy, Naples and AFNORTH, according to AFNORTH coach Greg Blankenship.

Blankenship said his Lions will be led offensively by midfielder Chris Eden, five goals and 11 assists in 2006, and defensively by sweeper Brock Blankenship.

Sophomore striker Chris Campos returns for Naples.

History happened in D-III in 2006 when Shawn Rodman’s Hohenfels Tigers became the first DODDS school to win the division in the nine-year history of the event. All-European Anthony Marshall returns from the squad which blanked three-time defending champion American Overseas School of Rome 4-0 in the finale.

Rodman said AOSR will be back to try to regain its crown. And there should be several other challengers.

“The Italian clubs don’t lose people,” he said by telephone on Tuesday, “and Rota’s usually good. Our conference is always tough.”

Milan, one of those Italian clubs that retains everyone, is the defending champion in D-IV.

The European championships will be contested in four divisions on fields in the Ramstein-Kaiserslautern area May 16-19.

Saturday’s games(Boys and girls at same sites unless otherwise indicated)

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