It’s playoff time.
After a riveting regular season, Catholic League boys’ soccer begins its postseason Oct. 21. Although on paper the top four seeds – La Salle, Father Judge, Roman Catholic and Archbishop Wood – are favored, it would not come as a shock if the bottom four seeds – Archbishop Ryan, Lansdale Catholic, Archbishop Carroll and St. Joseph’s Prep – emerged victorious.
St. Joseph’s Prep coach Jim Murray, who will retire at the end of the season after a distinguished 50-year career, has been encouraged by the Hawks’ play despite finishing as the ninth seed at 4-7 and needing a 2-1, play-in win over eighth-seed Bonner-Prendergast.
“From almost top to bottom it’s been a great battle,” said Murray. “We have actually played well (including two overtime losses) and yet finished ninth. The old adage that ‘on any given day’ is perhaps more true than ever. Any one of several teams could finish on top.”
Parity is arguably a major reason why Catholic League soccer is so well attended by not only respective schools, but by pure soccer enthusiasts with no particular rooting interest.
“That’s the strength and the beauty of the Philadelphia Catholic League,” said Roman Catholic coach Ray DeStephanis. “It’s honestly some of the best soccer, and hotly contested, in Southeastern Pennsylvania.”
Roman is the defending champion, but the Cahillites take no one lightly.
“While I know it’s cliché, on any given night, any team can challenge and challenge hard for a positive result,” he said. “That’s why we took nothing for granted this year as returning champions. In fact, all these tough league games and even nonleague games, I genuinely feel, have made us not only better, but keenly aware that nothing is a given.
“If you don’t show up with a competitive attitude and aren’t willing to play hard and smart, there’s a real probability that you’ll be looking at a loss. We, as a coaching staff and as a team, are really looking forward to the upcoming playoffs. It should be some great soccer as always.”
The collective record of the top three teams is 26-1-6. Their composite goal differential is 97-15. Father Judge surrendered only three goals; the other teams, six apiece.
The league, however, was well-balanced despite those gaudy numbers. While four contests ended in a stalemate, a whopping 20 were decided by one goal, with four of those settled in overtime. A foot here or a foot there, and the Catholic League standings might look strikingly different.
Consider the possibilities while reviewing the records for each team in both ties and one-goal finishes, listed in order of most to least points acquired in those affairs:
Archbishop Ryan (5-3, 18 points); Archbishop Wood (3-1-1, 10 points); Roman Catholic (2-0-3, 9 points); Archbishop Carroll (3-2, 9 points); La Salle (2-0-2, 8 points); Bonner-Prendergast (2-3, 6 points); Father Judge (1-1-1, 4 points); Conwell-Egan (1-1, 3 points); Cardinal O’Hara (1-1, 3 points); Lansdale Catholic (0-2-1, 1 point); St. Joseph’s Prep (0-3, 0 points); Bishop McDevitt (0-3, 0 points).
“This season showed what the PCL is all about, with really well-matched teams that played close matches,” said La Salle coach Jim McCaffery. “When there are two undefeated teams in the same league, it is awesome. The amount of one-goal games was very high this season, and it has set up some great playoff match-ups.”
Archbishop Ryan coach Ryan Haney agrees.
“I think the league is more competitive than ever,” said Haney.
The quarterfinals on Oct. 21 feature top-seed and undefeated La Salle (9-0-2) hosting ninth-seed St. Joseph’s Prep (4-7) at 3 p.m.; second-seed Father Judge (9-1-1) playing seventh-seed Archbishop Carroll (5-6) at RAMP Playground (7 p.m.); third-seed Roman Catholic (8-0-3) taking on sixth-seed Lansdale Catholic (6-4-1) at Lighthouse Field (7 p.m.); and fourth-seed Archbishop Wood (7-3-1) meeting Archbishop Ryan (7-4) at Veterans Field in Southampton (3:30 p.m.).
In the first match-up among those eight teams, each of the higher seeds was victorious. La Salle defeated the Prep, 3-0; Judge stopped Carroll, 5-0; Roman Catholic beat Lansdale Catholic, 2-0, and Wood (7-3-1) edged Ryan (7-4) by a high-scoring 4-3.
The winners will advance to the semifinals Oct. 26 at the United German Hungarian Club field (5 and 7:45 p.m.). The Catholic League championship is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 29 at South Philadelphia’s Super Site (10th & Bigler Streets).
“It will be very tough for any of the teams to win the championship,” said McCaffery, “and the plaque will be a well-deserved prize for any of the eight teams that are left playing.”