There's plenty of concern among the North Suncoast boys soccer coaches entering the district tournaments. There have been some inexplicable losses, key players missing and all-in-all simply too many questions about performances this late in the season. And it remains to be seen if the North Suncoast's top teams — Mitchell and Land O'Lakes — will finally meet. Five teams with worries as they enter district play:
The Gators obviously were rattled by the news senior captain Frank Villar suffered a season-ending knee injury (torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus). He was a significant cog in the Gators' 14-3-2 season. But Land O'Lakes has plenty of talent and has been dominant in district play, outscoring opponents 77-13. The Gators are solid with Kody Parker in net, but they will need players such as Jon Siragusa, Tim Falcon and Justin Lyles to step up. But having played some of the state's stiffest competition — King, Plant, Tallahassee Lincoln, Orlando Bishop Moore, etc. — should have the Gators battle-tested for the playoffs.
The Pirates (14-2-1) suffered a stunning 2-0 loss at Sunlake last Monday. Word circulated that Pasco was without scoring star Alex Garcia, though coach Barry Grayling did not return a message seeking comment. Athletic director Jim Ward said he could not confirm if Garcia would be out for the remainder of the season. If he does not play, Garcia's absence would be huge considering he leads the Pirates with 27 goals and 59 points. The Pirates have had six consecutive playoff berths, including a trip to the Class 4A final four in 2006. Of course, this is Pasco, a program usually blessed with plenty of strong skill players. Look for players such as Eric Garcia (13 goals, 11 assists) and Jose Flores (11 goals, four assists) to step up.
Maybe the biggest surprise of the year is the success of Sunlake (19-2), with its biggest wins coming against Pasco, River Ridge and Wesley Chapel. But only two of the teams Sunlake has faced had winning records. Based on how the district tournament shakes out, Sunlake could face Wiregrass Ranch in the semifinals. The Bulls defeated the Seahawks once this season, and the second game was canceled last week. So far, Jordan Landry (11 goals, two assists) and Miguel Laliberte (seven goals, eight assists) have stood out for the Seahawks.
The Bulls (15-3-2) were rolling along until Gulf stunned them 4-1 last week, snapping a six-match win streak. One thing that should settle the nerves is the play of senior Steven Esoff, who leads the Bulls with 26 goals and 11 assists. Before having a four-game scoring streak end, he had eight goals in four consecutive wins. Esoff has had nine games with multiple goals, including back-to-back four-goal games in wins vs. Ridgewood and Hernando.
The Mustangs (17-2-4) have been stellar, and they were the first North Suncoast team to knock off Pasco. Mitchell is coming off a 1-0 loss to Tampa Prep, and like Land O'Lakes, the Mustangs have plowed through tough competition (Countryside, Palm Harbor University, Orlando Dr. Phillips). The Mustangs are led by David Vasquez with 14 goals and 11 assists, and Jason Leslie with nine goals and six assists.
District tournament schedules
Tuesday: Ocala Forest (1) vs. Ocala West Port (4), 6 at Forest; Springstead (2) vs. Central (3), 6 at Springstead; Friday: Final, 6 at Forest
4A-8 at Sunlake
Monday: Zephyrhills (8) vs. Lecanto (9), 7; Tuesday: Wiregrass Ranch (2) vs. Hernando (7), 2; Sunlake (3) vs. Nature Coast (6), 4; River Ridge (4) vs. Citrus (5), 6; Land O'Lakes (1) vs. Zephyrhills/Lecanto winner, 8; Wednesday: Wiregrass Ranch/Hernando winner vs. Sunlake/Nature Coast winner, 6; Land O'Lakes/Zephyrhills-Lecanto winner vs. River Ridge/Citrus winner, 8; Friday: Final, 7
4A-7 at Mitchell
Tuesday: Wesley Chapel (4) vs. Hudson (5), 4; Gulf (3) vs. Ridgewood (6), 6; Mitchell (2) vs. Anclote (7), 8; Wednesday: Pasco (1) vs. Wesley Chapel/Hudson winner, 6; Gulf/Ridgewood winner vs. Mitchell/Anclote winner, 8; Friday: Final, 7
2A-9 at Bishop McLaughlin
Monday: Bishop McLaughlin (3) vs. Academy at the Lakes (6), 3:30; Calvary Christian (4) vs. Hernando Christian (5), 5:30; Indian Rocks Christian (2) vs. Carrollwood Day (7), 7:30; Tuesday: Bishop McLaughlin/AATL winner vs. IRC/Carrollwood Day winner, 5; Calvary/Hernando Chr. winner vs. Tampa Prep (1), 5; Friday: Final, 7