There are tough districts in boys soccer and then there is Class 5A, District 7.
"There isn't a team that you hope you'll be playing," Bloomingdale coach Troy Smith said. "Anyone in this district can beat anyone in any match."
And that's what will make this week's 5A-7 matchups so much fun for area soccer fans. With realignment this year, last season's district (6A-8) returned — minus Brandon — but with the added punch of Riverview, Newsome and Durant. Last year, the Wolves won the 6A-8 championship and Durant, the district runner-up, reached the state finals.
"Anyone can win any match," Newsome coach Neil Rickmers said. "This is going to be one wild week."
Wharton and Bloomingdale were the most successful during the district slate. The Wildcats went undefeated while the Bulls' lone loss was to Wharton. But even down to seventh-seeded Plant, no team is considered a pushover.
"It's definitely the toughest district in the county," Rickmers said. "And probably in the state."
Bloomingdale (12-2-2 as of press time) had its season end in heartbreaking fashion last year when the Bulls, runners up in 6A-8 to Wharton, lost 1-0 in overtime against Countryside in the region quarterfinals.
"We have a good group returning this year," Smith said. "We knew this new district was going to be difficult but the team has responded well."
The Bulls, who play three strikers up top, have a versatile attack led by Matt Firestine (18 goals), Dalian Leigh (14 goals) and freshman Allen Lewis (12 goals). The Bulls' senior-laden backline of Nick Buccieri, Carlos Tobar and Garrett Cohen provide a stout wall in front of keeper Austin Spagnola.
"Everything starts with Austin in the back," Smith said. "He's come through in some tough spots this year."
5A-7 at Newsome
Monday: No. 3 Alonso vs. No. 6 Riverview, 4; No. 2 Bloomingdale vs. No. 7 Plant, 6; No. 4 Durant vs. No. 5 Newsome, 8; Wednesday: Alonso/Riverview winner vs. Bloomingdale/Plant winner, 5; No. 1 Wharton vs. Durant/Newsome winner, 7; Friday: Final, 7.
THE SKINNY: Wharton won its only state title in 2008 and is looking for another deep postseason run. The Wildcats are balanced, took home the Wharton Invitational title in December and have won their last six matches. Durant's Jacob Brumbeloe is a four-year starter with an unrelenting motor.
4A-8 at Steinbrenner
Tuesday: No. 4 Wiregrass vs. No. 5 Chamberlain, 6; No. 3 Sickles vs. No. 6 Steinbrenner, 8; Wednesday: No. 2 Gaither vs. Sickles/Steinbrenner winner, 6; No. 1 Freedom vs. Wiregrass/Chamberlain winner, 8; Friday: Final, 7.
THE SKINNY: Gaither, Freedom and Steinbrenner are the class of this district. Keep an eye out on the Cowboys' Jonas Bukh and Freedom's Larry Thorpe, both of whom should show up in the score sheet this week.
4A-9 at Brandon
Tuesday: No. 2 Strawberry Crest vs. No. 7 Tampa Bay Tech, 4; No. 3 Hillsborough vs. No. 6 Armwood, 6; No. 4 East Bay vs. No. 5 Brandon, 8; Wednesday: TBT/Strawberry Crest winner vs. Hillsborough/Armwood winner, 6; No. 1 Plant City vs. Brandon/East Bay winner; Friday: Final, 7.
THE SKINNY: Plant City, which finished third in a tough field at the Berkeley Invitational in December, should walk through this district and into the postseason. The Raiders are led offensively by Cameron Roberts, but also have threats in Juan Navarette and Gerson Herrera.
3A-9 at Leto
Monday: No. 8 Middleton vs. No. 9 Spoto, 7; Tuesday: No. 1 Jesuit vs. Middleton/Spoto winner, 6; No. 2 Leto vs. No. 7 Blake, 8; Wednesday: No. 4 King vs. No. 5 Robinson, 6; No. 3 Lennard vs. No. 6 Jefferson, 8; Thursday: Jesuit/Spoto/Middleton winner vs. King/Robinson winner, 6; Leto/Blake vs. Lennard/Jefferson winner, 8; Friday: Final, 7.
THE SKINNY: Jesuit has six state titles in its trophy case, but the Tigers haven't had one since 2000. Jesuit played a challenging out-of-district schedule, facing off against Montverde; Gulfport, Miss.; Sarasota and Cape Coral Mariner. The Tigers' Brett Durrance is Jesuit's leading goal scorer.
2A-9 at Clearwater Central Catholic
Wednesday: No. 4 Tampa Catholic vs. No. 1 Berkeley Prep, 5; No. 2 Clearwater Central Catholic vs. No. 3 St. Pete Catholic, 7; Friday: Final, 7.
THE SKINNY: Kevin Harvey leads a potent Bucs attack and Berkeley Prep is the favorite heading into this tournament, but records can be thrown out in this district. These four teams simply don't like each other and with just one win getting a team through and into the finals, expect some physical soccer this week.
A-7 at various sites
Monday: No. 9 Citrus Park Christian at No. 8 Academy of the Lakes, 7; Tuesday: Academy of the Lakes/Citrus Park Christian winner at Tampa Prep, 7; No. 5 Seffner Christian at No. 4 Bishop McLaughlin, 7; No. 6 Calvary Christian at No. 3 Cambridge Christian, 7; No. 7 Carrollwood Day at No. 2 Indian Rocks Christian, 7; Wednesday (at IRC): Calvary Christian/Cambridge winner vs. IRC/Carrollwood Day winner, 5; Tampa Prep/Academy of the Lakes/Citrus Park Christian winner vs. Seffner Christian/Bishop McLaughlin winner, 7; Friday: Final, 7.
THE SKINNY: Tampa Prep, the defending state champion, navigated its way through the district schedule as an unbeaten and looks to be primed for another deep postseason run. The Terps beat IRC, 5-2, during the regular season, but the Eagles are dangerous up top with scorers Rhett Hammil and Cody Sitton.