Over the past few years, a lot has changed on Northeast Philadelphia’s soccer scene. Of course, the Catholic League is still getting used to the absence of North Catholic and Cardinal Dougherty. This year, Frankford has upgraded to the A Division. And other squads that have decades of history — Archbishop Ryan, Father Judge and Samuel Fels, to name a few — continue to embrace their tradition of excellence.
However, in a sport that is constantly evolving, one thing has remained the same. The school teams in Northeast Philadelphia remain competitive and passionate about their sport.
So what can you expect from your favorite neighborhood squads? Here’s a look at the Raiders, Crusaders, Railsplitters, Eagles, Pioneers, Vikings and Panthers.
Philadelphia Catholic League
The Archbishop Ryan High School soccer squad has established itself as a powerhouse in the Philadelphia Catholic League.
This year should be no different.
The Raiders have eight returning players this season, providing a wealth of varsity experience. Two-time first-team All-Catholic midfielder Kevin Nelms will serve as team co-captain with All-Catholic sweeper Matt Martinez.
Angel Luviano and Brett Beaumont, both juniors, will work as strikers. Midfielder Ryan Stevens — also a returning All-Catholic player — will join stopper Miguel Rendon and wings Lou Simone and Mike Bozzelli in the midfield. Freshman attacker Michael Kirby will also contribute.
Jim Smith and Kevin Gaum will guide the Raiders’ defense. Sophomore Jared Ott and junior Marcus Otto will share goaltending responsibilities.
“We have a decent situation where we have players back from last year’s team,” said Raiders coach George Todt, who is now in his 43rd year of coaching on the pitch. “The goal is to get ready, play hard through the season and get to the end. I think we’ll be one of the team’s contending for a championship.”
The Father Judge High School soccer team has an abundance of youth on this year’s squad, but according to head coach John Dunlop, they’re also stacked with talent.
“I think we have something really decent,” said Dunlop, who has guided the Crusaders to a pair of Catholic League championship titles, two city titles and a state championship in the past three years. “We’re going to be young with a few productive seniors.”
Midfielder Kevin Pohl, fullback Rich Mychalck and midfielder and forward Nick Battaglia — all seniors — will share team co-captain responsibilities this season.
Joey Hanson will work as a forward, with Justin Hiltwine and senior Kyle Ditsche in the midfield. Twin brothers Vontez and Vontae Hilliard will handle both forward and midfield duties.
Father Judge currently has three goaltenders who will share time guarding the net — seniors Ryan Dipiero, and Dylan Trush and freshman Mark Pohl.
Stephen Smeck and Matt Matwiejczyk will anchor the backfield.
“The boys are working hard,” said Dunlop. “They’re really excited.”
Philadelphia Public League
After a disappointing season last year (4-7 overall), the Abraham Lincoln soccer squad has nowhere to go but up.
And that’s exactly what they plan to do.
“We have a lot of work to do, but we’re getting there,” said head coach Neal Convey, now in his third season as the Railsplitters’ boss. “I’m hoping to improve and get back to where the Lincoln soccer program should be.”
Midfielders include seniors Danny Montano and Amir Albarouki.
Senior Marcelino Costilla and junior Kevin Johnson will work as fullbacks, with junior goalie Washington Kimber rounding out the Railsplitters’ core lineup.
“We need to work together as a team,” said Convey. “I’m expecting them to improve with each game.”
After losing some key players to graduation — including four starting defenders — the George Washington soccer team has some big shoes to fill.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Eagles head coach Chris Reid, who guided his playoff squad to a 9-1-2 record last season. “We’re a lot younger and less experienced, but I think we have potential to be very good.”
Despite a plethora of rookies on this year’s squad, the Eagles do have some veterans returning to the pitch. Senior forward Wilo Mimbar — a returning All-Public who led the Eagles in scoring last year — will play a vital leadership role on this year’s squad.
Senior Matheus Schaper and juniors Duke Gbolue and Mobin Abdul will work the midfield. Junior Jabony Ramos will guard the net.
“We’re looking for the older guys to lead the less experienced players,” explained Reid. “We have a lot of strength up front and in the middle, but we’re young in the backfield.”
Freshman Mohamed Cunde — who will see playing time as a forward and midfielder — has earned a starting position on the Eagles’ varsity squad.
“He’s very young and very talented. He’s definitely a player to watch,” said Reid. “We have some very skilled players on the team. I’m very lucky.”
The Frankford High School soccer team is shaping up to become major contenders in the Philadelphia Public League.
“This year, I probably am starting eleven of the most talented players I’ve had since I’ve been coaching,” said Pioneers boss Rob Shelton, who is now in his fifth season as the Pioneers’ boss. “We’re in good shape.”
Right wing Mustafa Alghazzawi and left wing Eric Salguero will guide the Pioneers’ offense this season. Senior Jeff Marc and junior Anthony Bravo will work the backfield.
Junior goaltender Ken Appiott will guard the net.
Augusto Ortega, Omar Cruz and Hector Cerda — all players on Frankford’s Public League championship baseball team — will also contribute on the Pioneers’ pitch.
“They have a good attitude, a mature attitude,” Shelton said of the three athletes. “They bring hustle to the team.
“We have a lot of talented players,” he added. “Our goal is to get to the playoffs and take it from there. I think we’re capable of it. We’ll compete for a top place.”
The Northeast High School soccer team dominated the competition last year, making a Public League championship appearance but falling short of the title. This year, they’re ready to take it all the way.
“We have thirteen returning players, eight returning starters,” said head coach Sam Feldman. “We have a good mix and five magnet (school) kids. So not only are they talented, they’re smart.”
Senior strikers Shavar Shephard — the Vikings’ top scorer last year — and Kevin Kureta are expected to lead Northeast’s offense.
Halfbacks include Chris Black, Mohammed Hadaihed, Sam Chan and Tyler Gormley.
The Vikings have a wealth of defenders on this year’s squad: seniors Ray Greishele, Chris Mara and Richard Laurent, and Matt Feinstein and Jorge Chavez.
Senior Howard Lynn will once again handle goaltending responsibilities.
“I think we will get back to the championship again,” said Feldman. “We’ll be very competitive.”
The Samuel Fels High School soccer program has had quite a few obstacles to overcome, and yet the Panthers continue to succeed on the pitch.
“All of our games are away because we have no home field,” explained second-year coach George Ewerth, who guided the Panthers to an 11-1 overall record last season. “We’re practicing in the gym. Outside, we have no lines and only one net that is beat up.
“The thing is, the kids are so happy to be a part of this,” he added. “We’re a family and we’re all really excited to be here.”
Senior forward Musa Kamara — who netted 25 goals last season, including three hat tricks — will lead the Panthers as team co-captain. He’ll share the responsibilities with co-captain John Nothacker, a utility player.
Halfbacks include Elise Nothacker — John’s sister, who is eligible to play because Samuel Fels does not have a girls soccer program — and Fernando Belilla, Jorge Avecilla and Quaryee Armstrong.
Goalie Bernie Vilsint will round out the Panthers’ core.
“We’re looking really good. We have our key players back,” said Ewerth. “The kids have a great work ethic and we have a lot of support form the administration. I think we have a good shot. We’re ready to compete.” ••
Editor Melissa Yerkov can be reached at email@example.com