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Barring a stunning collapse, this game was going to happen.
Land O’Lakes and Mitchell were not on each other’s regular-season schedules for various reasons, including the new split of the Sunshine Athletic Conference. But the Gators and Mustangs were clearly the top boys soccer teams on the North Suncoast.
The new district alignments ensured they would only meet in the first or second round of the playoffs.
The cruel reality of the playoffs is that one of these teams will not advance. Land O’Lakes has lost first-round games in three of the past four seasons before breaking through last year.
Mitchell, which reached the semifinals last year for the first time since 2005, appears headed for a rebuilding phase next season with 10 starters graduating.
The winner advances to play the winner of Ocala Vanguard-Celebration.
Recent series notes
The Gators defeated the Mustangs 3-1 on Dec. 17, 2008. Mitchell forward David Vasquez had the Mustangs’ only goal. Land O’Lakes midfielder Andrew Gorgen had an assist, but goal scorers such as Felix Soto and Dominic Cutrofello have both graduated. Land O’Lakes also crushed Mitchell 8-0 in 2007. The Mustangs defeated Land O’Lakes 1-0 in 2006.
Land O’Lakes has won five in a row since a 2-1 loss to King on Jan. 19. Mitchell has won four in a row since losing 1-0 to Tampa Prep on Jan. 21.
Keep an eye on …
Land O’Lakes: Justin Lyles (midfielder), Jon Siragusa (defender), Andrew Gorgen (forward), Tim Falcon (midfielder), Kody Parker (keeper).
Mitchell: David Vasquez (forward), Robbie Wallace (keeper), Max Rockwell (midfielder), Alex Wegener (midfielder), Chris McVeigh (defender).
Keys to the game
Homefield advantage? The Mustangs’ loss to Tampa Prep was on home turf, so the idea of Land O’Lakes winning in Trinity is not difficult to accept.
Ball handling? When the Gators are grooving they have a knack for precision passing, which leads to scoring chances.
Wall of defense: The Mustangs, led by Chris McVeigh in the back, can play stingy defense.
Key losses: The Gators have played without several key players, including Frank Villar (torn ACL) and leading scorer Andy Garcia (broken toe).