— Washington, Northeast and Franklin Towne Charter are vying for a Public League boys soccer title.
With the Public League’s boys soccer playoffs set to begin later this week, a slew of area teams lead the pack in a dogged fight for a championship.
There are familiar faces, such as George Washington and Northeast, who met in last year’s championship game, one that GW won in thrilling fashion. After the team’s meeting last Thursday that produced a 3-3 tie (Washington scored the first three goals, Northeast the next three, including the equalizer very late in the second half), it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the two teams meet again.
Then, there are teams like Franklin Towne Charter looking to be a chink in the armor of the established mainstays.
A year after posting a 6-7 mark in 2011, Dennis Drumm’s Franklin Towne Charter squad came into 2012 with lofty aspirations. The boys soccer team watched its female counterpart dethrone Central to win the first Public League girls soccer title in school history. As a result, the boys headed into the season believing the same could be possible for them — and so far, they’re right.
Not only has Franklin Towne improved immensely from a year ago, but they also have put themselves in prime position for a deep playoff run. Case in point: back on Sept. 21, Towne throttled Northeast, 3-0, for the first-ever win over the Vikings in school history. Then, in even more impressive fashion on Monday afternoon, Towne dealt Washington its first loss of the season, a rain-soaked 1-0 thriller that portrayed Drumm’s players for what they really are: legitimate contenders in the Public League A Division.
“It’s been a special season for us,” Drumm said after the win over Washington propelled Towne to the top of the standings with nine league wins. “In the beginning, we thought we could get to the final; now, we’re one step closer. They’re a great group to work with, and it’s been a pleasure. We’ve proven that hard does show, and it does pay off.”
Drumm, a 1971 graduate of North Catholic and former coach at the school, knows all about soccer’s storied history in Northeast Philadelphia. Going from North to Towne presented a challenge for the soccer lifer, one he’s tackled head-on in building Towne into a solid Public League program.
And the only way to reach the top of the mountain is to knock off those who have occupied its apex before. So far, Towne has done just that.
“The first step is to come out and beat the teams we haven’t beaten before,” Drumm said. “Everything is starting to fall into place, and somewhat surprisingly at that. We had an idea we could be good, but we had to see some results. I’m surprised we’ve gotten this far, but I know my guys aren’t. It’s a very exciting time.”
Towne’s rapid ascent to the top of the standings has involved a little luck at the expense of some other teams, namely Washington. Not only did Towne knock off the Eagles in Monday’s regular season finale, but the Washington-Northeast tie allowed Drumm’s squad to keep pace after Towne had taken a tough overtime loss to Masterman.
“I said that if we could get a tie in that Northeast-Washington game that it would be an omen,” Drumm said. “And it happened.”
As far as Washington is concerned, the rough final week of the regular season has been new territory for the Eagles. After settling for a tie against Northeast, the loss to Towne was the team’s first taste of defeat this season. Heading into the playoffs, which will begin next week for the division’s top four teams (Washington, Northeast, Towne and Masterman all received first round byes for finishing in the top four), the Eagles need to re-focus on what got them here in the first place.
“For us, it’s been a rough stretch,” Eagles head coach Chris Reid said. “Today was a tough loss, but we move on and get ready for the quarterfinals. It’s not a ‘go back to the drawing board’ scenario; rather, it’s a lesson learned. It’s over with, and we’ve got to move forward.”
For Washington to repeat as champs, a lot will hinge on the play of senior Ryan Stevens, an Archbishop Ryan transfer and center midfielder who is undoubtedly Washington’s best player. Stevens scored all three goals in the first half against Northeast and needs to be constantly around the ball in order for his team to succeed.
“He’s played a long time, and what makes him so good is the coaching he’s got up until this point,” said Reid in reference to the tutelage of legendary Ryan soccer coach George Todt. “He’s so well-rounded, skill wise, and he just needs to maintain his fitness and be more vocal and positive out there on the field. He’s very tough, physical, strong and smart. He’s been a huge addition for us.”
As for Towne, they’ll continue to rely on the guys that have got them here, guys like “Little” Bill Carter, Chris Hammerstein and senior defenders Chris McKendry and Brandon McGuire, whom Drumm said have “led us with their desire.”
“They would have been North kids,” Drumm said of his senior backs. “So it’s their last chance to do something.”
If anything, the logjam atop the Public League soccer standings is a positive thing for the league, and for the area of Northeast Philly as well. Three of the top four come from the area, and they all come with differing motivations. For Washington, it’s a desire to repeat as champs; for Towne, it’s the opportunity to prove they belong on the same stage as the established powers; and for Northeast, it’s winning one more for longtime coach Sam Feldman, who will retire after the school year.
“This is why you play the games,” Reid said. “This is the fun part. If you aren’t having fun now then there’s something wrong with you. There are so many good teams, so hopefully we take today’s loss and move forward. We need to have a good week of practice, and the senior leaders need to let the young guys understand that this is a new season. Lose and you’re done, so hopefully the guys that have been here will step up and lead.