The boys soccer season moves at its own inexorable forward momentum. Once the season starts, the days move quickly, the interesting matches accumulate and register one way or another and we are all left trying to interpret the data.
The screenwriter and savant William Goldman famously said of Hollywood, the first rule is that nobody knows anything. It was especially difficult to get a read, this year, on how things would shake during the regular season, much less the playoffs.
Making educated guesses is part of the fun.
Some teams, like Wheeling, 8-13 a year ago, come out of nowhere; others are what we most accurately call the “tried and true,” a Benet, a Naperville Central, a Morton, all teams with great players, excellent coaching and an ingrained knowledge about how to get things done.
In the notebook this week, Wheeling was held up as a surprise team that emerges from the shadows. Last year midfielder Jose Garcia accounted for 67 percent of the Wildcats’ offense, scoring 19 goals and adding 14 assists.
Garcia has hardly slowed down this year, already recording four goals and two assists in Wheeling’s first six games (5-0-1). He has help. Forwards Ivan Mancilla (three goals, six assists) and Luis Herrera (three goals, two assists) are dangerous in their own right. Garcia’s opposite number at midfielder, Frank Estrada, has also been a revelation, according to coach Ed Uhrik.
The result is a team that went from obscurity, a team without a great deal of aura to start the year, is now suddenly a top team to watch.
This is an interesting stretch to the year. The pieces have started to solidify for a number of teams, who are understanding new roles and learning with each game how everybody fits together. It is also tournament time. Like basketball, the tournaments are a marker, a way to examine how your own strengths and weaknesses contrast with other leading teams.
It truly is the eye of the beholder. It means everything, or very little, depending on the source.
The tournaments also reinforce the idea that the regular season matters. At least twice in the first two weeks of the season (and both games involving Lyons), a player or coach, speaking afterwards, has made the point of saying the intensity level and depth of feelling of both sides equaled that of a state tournament game.
We are barely out of August. It is still technically summer.
By the end of Saturday, Sept. 7, four or five major in-season tournaments are going to crown winners. Also, the Pepsi Showdown opens its first round of action, with all games at Lyons, marking a sharper delineation of the year, captured from the point of view of the leading participants.
Hinsdale Central senior forward Christian Meyer, this week’s featured player, pointed out the Red Devils had not qualified for the championship of their tournament since 2004. Meyer made it fairly explicit the team felt overdue. Hinsdale Central survived a tough match against Downers South, a 1-1 draw, and reached the final.
The opponent is an old standby, No. 5 Morton. Mustangs’ coach Mike Caruso pointed out just before the year started this team marks the final connection to the 2011 Class 3A state championship. Morton survived a very good Hersey team (like Wheeling, from the deep and loaded Mid-Suburban League) 1-0 to reach the final.
One of the other top weekend tournaments is a rematch from last year: Benet against Naperville Central meet for the second consecutive year to determine the Best of the West. Last year Naperville Central star Patrick Flynn blasted a free kick from close to 30 yards that powered the Redhawks to the 1-0 victory over the Redwings. Benet edged Naperville North 1-0 to qualify for a return to the final.
If you’re a soccer fan, check the Saturday results page on www.highschoolcubenews.com, and make a point of checking out the winners of the Hinsdale Invite, the Barrington Classic, the Lemont Cup or the Best of the West.
The games are there for the taking. After the jousting on both sides, we are better able to extrapolate the larger meaning. More than anything, it just provides one more rationale for staying tuned and watching the game, very closely.
What you get is both heft and excitement.