By Ray Hamill — The McKinleyville boys soccer team will try to do something no other North Coast squad has managed this season, when the Panthers host Fortuna on Wednesday in a Humboldt-Del Norte League showdown.
The Huskies are unbeaten against North Coast opposition this year, having defeated Eureka and Arcata twice each, and they have been the most impressive of all local teams through the early going.
The Panthers, however, won’t lack confidence after coming away with a 2-2 tie against big rivals Arcata over the weekend, in a game they felt they should have won.
Set plays, however, proved costly for the Mack boys, who twice led and twice saw that lead disappear on set pieces, once on a free kick and once on a corner kick.
“They’re a tall team,” McKinleyville head coach Ryan Deppe said of the Tigers. “Arcata’s always good in the air.”
The Fortuna boys, meanwhile, suffered their first setback of the season over the weekend, tying a game at Gateway on Friday and then losing 3-2 at Head-Royce on Saturday.
Whether or not the Panthers feel the backlash of that loss from a young Huskies team remains to be seen, but Deppe is looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s gonna be one heck of a game,” the Panthers coach said. “One way or another, that’s for sure.”
The Panthers, who are now 1-1-1 in league play, welcome back a pair of players for the big clash.
Jair Gonzalez returns from an ankle injury to further boost a strong defensive unit, while Rickie Carpenter returns up front after missing the weekend action for personal reasons.
“We’re just gonna look to see if we can bring it,” Deppe said. “They are beatable. If we can control the midfield, that’s the key to this game.”
And Deppe is confident a well-organized Mack defense will stifle the Huskies’ attack.
“I don’t see them scoring on our defense as long as we’re together and talking to each other and composed,” he said.
Fortuna is 7-1-1 on the season.
Crusaders get set for the Tigers
In other action on Wednesday, the Arcata Tigers will head to Eureka to play St. Bernard’s, while the Del Norte Warriors will try to keep their fast start going when they host South Fork.
Jack Taylor and Adrian York each netted for Arcata in the tie with McKinleyville, as the Tigers twice battled back.
And head coach Ty Watkins is hoping his players can carry that momentum into Wednesday’s game.
“I’m very encouraged,” Watkins said. “We’ve had a couple of very good practices this week.”
The head coach added that he is starting to see steady improvement from his players.
“I think we’re starting to come around to the style of soccer we want to play,” he said.
St Bernard’s, meanwhile, is playing with a limited roster, with a handful of foreign exchange students still waiting for their paperwork to clear.
According to head coach Brian Dunlap, it’s a day-to-day basis.
“They have their documents. I don’t know why it’s taking so long,” Dunlap said.
Some of the school’s football players who have some soccer experience came to their aid last week, adding depth to a thin roster, and Dunlap is hoping they can do so again for Wednesday’s game.
On Friday, St. Bernard’s fell 5-0 to South Fork at Crusader Field, holding the visitors to just one goal in the second half.
“The second half was very encouraging,” the head coach said. “We put together a stronger team … we had scoring opportunities, we just couldn’t convert them, but it was something to build on.”
And Dunlap is expecting another tough battle against Arcata.
“They’re well coached,” he said. “And they play together a lot.”
Jon Andre has been impressing in goal for the Crusaders, as has Joseph Luna in midfield.
“He’s really taken on the role of leader,” Dunlap said of Luna.
Lee Hengler has also been impressing in practice, and the coach is excited about seeing what he can do when his paperwork clears.
Del Norte, meanwhile, is still unbeaten in league play at 2-0-2.
Two intriguing girls games
In girls soccer action on Wednesday, the Eureka girls will try to keep their fast start to the season in tact when they travel to Ferndale.
The Loggers sit atop the standings at 4-0.
Also on schedule is a pair of intriguing matchups featuring four 2-1-1 teams all deadlocked in second spot in the standings.
Fortuna will travel to McKinleyville, fresh off back-to-wins over Arcata and Ferndale, while St. Bernard’s hosts Arcata.
Also on tap, South Fork travels to Del Norte.