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The 2013 DODDS-Europe boys soccer championship tournament will be held May 20-23 at four sites around the Kaiserslautern Military Community in Germany, culminating in a day of championship games at Kaiserslautern High School’s freshly-opened new field.

The contenders are legion and prohibitive favorites are nowhere to be found, potentially making for a championship tournament in its purest form: balanced, competitive and highly unpredictable. Here’s a look at the field, based on the season’s results and input from participating coaches.

Division I: Reigning large-school champion International School of Brussels turned in another impeccable regular season in 2013 and looks poised for a stout defense of its European championship. The Raiders’ 5-0-1 mark includes wins over solid Division I opponents such as Lakenheath and Kaiserslautern.

But the evidence is not all encouraging for ISB.

An overview of the Division I ranks reveals nothing but tough, dangerous threats to ISB’s throne. And the Raiders didn’t play any of the fiercest rivals they’ll encounter in the European tournament.

Heidelberg has taken what might have been a melancholy final season and infused it with the exhilarating fresh air of a 6-0 record and championship contention.

Ramstein, a school accustomed to being centrally involved in every DODDS-Europe championship affair, was sidelined quickly at last year’s tournament. The Royals have responded vengefully in 2013 with an unblemished 7-0 record.

Incumbent runner-up Patch absorbed consecutive shutout losses to Ramstein and Heidelberg in late April, but could see its fortunes reversed in the postseason with a few favorable bounces. Wiesbaden is in a similar position, having suffered one-goal losses to Heidelberg and Ramstein. Vilseck has an unremarkable record but enough talent to shake up the brackets.

Division II: After playing largely within their own regions throughout the regular season, the worlds of Northern European teams such as AFNORTH and SHAPE, German teams like Black Forest Academy and Schweinfurt and Italy’s imposing group of contenders finally collide at Europeans.

As one would expect, the Italian schools generally fare well in a tournament of the nation’s preferred sport. That was certainly the case in 2012, when Marymount won the title and AOSR and Vicenza also cracked the final four. Those schools each survived 2013 regional play with .500 records or better, led by the 6-0 defending champions.

BFA, a second-place finisher to Marymount after a 1-0 title-game loss, managed just one win in an injury-plagued season and doesn’t figure to be the contender it was a year ago. But two other teams are in position to take their place in the title scene.

AFNORTH, featuring many of the same players who delivered a long-sought boys basketball title to the Netherlands school in February, has rattled off an unbeaten regular season punctuated by a May 4 tie with defending Division I champion ISB. SHAPE, meanwhile, owns just one loss and played AFNORTH to a 1-1 tie.

Division III: Nobody looks forward to the European tournament as much as the small-school scrappers of the Division III ranks. Geography dooms the tiny programs to spend their regular seasons shoved about by their larger neighbors; the playoffs represent a chance to pick on opponents their own size.

Those same circumstances make seeding and prognostication all but impossible. None of the entries have a winning overall record. Some have played no DODDS games at all this season, while others have played just a handful.

Defending champion Florence held its own against its bigger Italian rivals and is well-tested for the playoff grind. Alconbury has distinguished itself in a strange season that featured four ties among its nine-game schedule. Menwith Hill, Brussels, Sigonella and 2012 runner-up Rota could also make a run.

broome.gregory@stripes.com

Twitter: @broomestripes


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