Falcons strikers focus more on scoring, eye Far East D-I soccer tournament repeat
They were the most unlikely of Far East soccer champions last May, the lowest playoff seed (sixth) ever to rise up and win the crown, a team that scored just over 1.5 goals per match but fashioned itself around stellar goalkeeper Liz Gleaves and a stingy defense to become a contender.
This season, Seoul American averaged 3.6 goals per match, added two promising freshmen talents in Tori Roberts and Amanda Jackson, won its second straight Korea postseason tournament title and enters this week’s Girls Division II Tournament on Okinawa with the “team to beat” label.
“We’ve built around a team concept that doesn’t focus on one single piece,” said first-year Falcons coach Scott Bittner. “We’ve built up our offense around scoring opportunities, we’ve built up our defense and we’ve shown we’re capable of winning.”
En route to a 13-2-2 Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference record, the Falcons moved Gleaves out of goal to midfield, where she scored a Korea-best 29 goals, complemented by Jackson (7) and Roberts (12) and a solid veteran corps including All-Far East selection Gloria Patterson.
They finished third in the KAIAC regular season, but for the second straight year beat powerful Seoul Foreign in the tournament final 1-0. They also beat No. 2 seed Daegu American en route to taking the tournament.
“We’ve proven we can perform in a tournament,” Bittner said. “Certainly we think we have as much of a chance as anybody.”
They’ll get challenges from the likes of junior Elizabeth Fabila (24 goals) and the three-time champion Kubasaki Dragons along with Japan’s Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils and 2008 champion American School In Japan Mustangs.
“We have to play each game as if it’s the championship and play up to the level we’re capable of,” Bittner said.
Another team seeking repeat glory is Matthew C. Perry’s boys (16-1-1), who behind Tyelor Apple’s Pacific-best 29 goals earned the best regular-season record in school history but must go on the road to Camp Humphreys, South Korea, to defend its D-II Tournament title.
They’ll be challenged by 2008-09 champion Yongsan International-Seoul (10-2-3), which lost the KAIAC Tournament final to Seoul Foreign in penalty kicks.
“I know YIS will be a formidable foe,” said coach Mark Lange, adding that Matt Linder and 2009 runner-up Robert D. Edgren and Derek Stevenson and Zama American may threaten also. “It’s tournament time. Anything can happen.”
While Perry enters the Boys D-II healthy, two-time Girls D-II champion Osan American of South Korea (8-7-2) suffered another injury plagued season, but have midfielder Courtney Ouellette back and could be a three-peat threat.
Daegu (12-3-2) could pose a threat after rolling to its school-best regular-season record, as could Perry (9-2-1), which boasts Pacific goal-scoring leader Bre’Onna Ray (38).
Perry did well “against D-I teams in Japan; we have to respect that,” Daegu coach Ed Thompson said. “And Osan always comes on strong at Far East; they’ve never failed to do so.”
If history’s an indicator, Christian Academy Japan may do well in the Boys D-I at Kubasaki, having won the last three titles in odd-numbered years.
“It would be nice if it happens again,” first-year coach Charles Smoker said of a Knights team that doesn’t have a signature star such as Leo Kobayashi, but features great scoring balance in Ryo Fuseya and Ryan Hollands, in front of a young, untested defense. Seniors Jesse Hino and Wataru Ueno are first-time defenders and right fullback Kye Arbuckle is a freshman.
“We’re not in the best of shape, but we’ll see what happens next week,” Smoker said.