As Northeast coach Thomas Blauvelt surveyed his Vikings' preseason match against Dunedin last week, the veteran coach made two observations about his team.
With goalkeeper Ian Ronshausen playing behind an experienced, unyielding defense, Northeast would once again be one of the area's toughest teams to score on.
How the Vikings will score could be a problem.
"I'm returning nine starters from a region quarterfinal team," Blauvelt said. "But the two that are gone scored 35 goals for me."
Bojan Mijatovic, last year's goal leader, has graduated. Jasmin Mecanovik, the other prolific scorer, moved back to Macedonia after his junior season. His return is up in the air.
"He's trying to get a visa to come back," Blauvelt said. "I'd say it's 50-50."
So Blauvelt is tinkering. Josh Phillippi, an all-county honorable mention defender, will switch into an attacking position, and other changes are likely.
Compounding the problem are three starters who won't be available until the end of football season: Lukasz Chrzastek, Tim Tisdale and Ryan Moore.
"It's going to be difficult for us to win games if we don't keep teams off the scoreboard," Blauvelt said.
|The Starting 11|
|Ian Ronshausen, senior, Northeast||His saves in the district semifinal earned the Vikings a playoff spot.|
|Gary Bakowski, senior, Dunedin||Four-year starter will switch between sweeper and stopper.|
|Lukasz Chrzastek, senior, Northeast||Hard-nosed sweeper captains what could be the county's top defense.|
|Cassidy Nova, senior, East Lake||The leader in the back for a loaded defense.|
|Sean Rafferty, junior, Seminole||Skilled goal scorer could also play forward.|
|Jonny Sitton, senior, Indian Rocks Christian||Might be the county's top all-around athlete.|
|Andrew Smith, senior, Palm Harbor University||A stalwart in the middle.|
|Ben Sweat, junior, Palm Harbor University||Dynamic player who moves to the midfield after starting on defense last year.|
|Korey Veeder, sophomore, Dixie Hollins||In the player pool for the U.S. under-18 team.|
|Josh Gonzalez, senior, East Lake||An intelligent, tireless center-forward with a knack for scoring.|
|Stephen Spanos, senior, Shorecrest||Led the Chargers in scoring and assists last season.|
|Class 6A, District 7
Teams: Alonso, Countryside, Gaither, Mitchell, St. Petersburg, Sickles
|Always a wide open district, this year is no different. St. Petersburg has size and speed, and is tactically sound. If the Green Devils mesh on the field, look out. Countryside had a young, inexperienced lineup last season. Most of it returns, which should benefit the Cougars.||Defending champ: Gaither
|Class 5A, District 9
Teams: Clearwater, Dunedin, East Lake, Largo, Palm Harbor University, Pinellas Park, Tarpon Springs
|Five teams have legitimate playoff aspirations. East Lake, which brings back nearly everybody from last year's region semifinal squad, is a state title contender. PHU lost six starters but will reload. As always, the Hurricanes are one of the best. Clearwater and Dunedin are dangerous and have enormous potential. Throw Tarpon into the mix and there are very few easy outs in 5A-9.||Defending champ: East Lake
Runnerup: Palm Harbor U.
|Class 5A, District 11
Teams: Boca Ciega, Dixie Hollins, Gibbs, Lakewood, Northeast, Osceola, Seminole
|Seminole graduated nine, including Sebastien Thuriere, the St. Petersburg Times' 2008 player of the year, but an influx of young talent will have the Warhawks humming again. The additions of Maurice Lelii, who missed last season because of injury, and Shane Wixted, a transfer from Lakewood, bolster an already talented lineup. Two teams with little postseason history, Bogie and Dixie, could be contenders.||Defending champ: Seminole
|Class 3A, District 9
Teams: Berkeley Prep, Clearwater Central Catholic, Lennard, St. Petersburg Catholic, Tampa Catholic
|Berkeley Prep and Tampa Catholic are the favorites, but all five teams are capable of grabbing a playoff spot. CCC had just three wins a year ago but should be much improved because of goalie Matt Thomas and a standout defense. SPC is breaking in first-year coach Will Summer.||Defending champ: Berkeley Prep
Runnerup: Tampa Catholic
|Class 2A, District 10
Teams: Calvary Christian, Cambridge, Indian Rocks Christian, Tampa Prep
|The road to the district title runs down Cass Street to downtown Tampa, where two-time defending state champ Tampa Prep is engineering another title run. IRC has nine starters back. Once Sitton and Ethan Engelbert join after football season, the Golden Eagles should be in position to grab the runnerup slot. Calvary graduated seven seniors, including county leading goal scorer Greg McClimans, and is rebuilding.||Defending champ: Tampa Prep
Runnerup: Calvary Christian
|Class 2A, District 11
Teams: Admiral Farragut, Canterbury, Keswick Christian, Northside Christian, Shorecrest
|Shorecrest won the last three district championships and is in the driver's seat for a fourth straight title. A strong freshman class, highlighted by gifted playmaker Reese Wiltshire, should help the Chargers offset the loss of a number of key starters.||Defending champ: Shorecrest
Runnerup: Northside Christian