Northeast Times

Local teams aplenty as soccer playoffs approach

Wash­ing­ton’s Ry­an Stevens (cen­ter), an Arch­bish­op Ry­an trans­fer, is key to the Eagles’ chances to re­peat as Pub­lic League soc­cer champs. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

— Wash­ing­ton, North­east and Frank­lin Towne Charter are vy­ing for a Pub­lic League boys soc­cer title.

Start­Frag­ment

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.

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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