By Ray Hamill — Five local soccer teams will be competing in four different games on Wednesday evening, as the North Coast Section playoffs reach the penultimate matchups of the season.
In boys Division-I action, No. 3 seed Fortuna will play at No. 2 Fort Bragg, while No. 5 seed Del Norte will play at No. 1 International in San Francisco.
The girls Division-I semifinals feature three local teams, including No. 3 Arcata at No. 2 Fortuna, as the two Humboldt-Del Norte League rivals get set to write the latest chapter in their recent rivalry.
No. 1 Eureka will also be in action, hosting No. 4 Middletown at Albee Stadium.
Both local games are set for 7 p.m.
Arcata at Fortuna
If this rivalry has taught us anything over the past couple of years, it’s not to expect the expected.
Last season, they met in the NCS semifinal, with the Tigers seeded two and having won all three regular-season matchups between the two programs, but it was the No. 3 seed Huskies who won the game on the way to winning the NCS championship.
This year, the Huskies have won all four games between the two teams and are the two seed, while the No. 3 Tigers come into the game with nothing to lose.
“It’s a reverse of last year, and it worries me a little,” Fortuna head coach Kevin O’Neil said. “Arcata’s got a quality team. It’s difficult to beat a team four times in a row, and it’s really difficult to beat them five times.”
In truth, there’s been little between these teams in most of their matchups over the past two years, and we don’t expect a whole lot between them once again on Wednesday.
“It sounds like I’m making excuses, but I truly believe it’s just been a bounce of the ball here or there,” Arcata head coach Patrick Stranahan said. “The girls have what it takes to get past Fortuna, they just have to show up.”
The Huskies come into the game at 14-4-1, recently knocking off Arcata 3-1 in the semifinal of the H-DNL Tournament.
Arcata is 13-7-1.
“I think the main thing for us is to come out and play our game,” said O’Neil, whose players have been battling the flu bug the last few days, although he expects a full squad on hand for Wednesday’s game.
Both teams had opening-round byes, before winning their quarterfinals on Saturday.
Middletown at Eureka
The Loggers have posted 16 shutouts in 17 matchups this season, but they have not yet faced an offense as potent as that of the Mustangs.
Middletown, which knocked McKinleyville out in the quarterfinals to deny the Humboldt-Del Norte League the final four spots in the Division-I bracket, is 21-2–2 on the season and has scored an impressive 95 goals, more than any of Eureka’s other opponents.
“I expect a high-powered offense,” Eureka head coach Andy Salatnay said. “They’re the second highest scoring team in Division I, and we’re going to have to counter that with our own high-powered offense.”
The Eureka defense has only allowed two goals all season, both of them coming in one half of action against Fortuna.
And Salatnay expects the high-scoring Mustangs to bring out the best in his defense.
“When the girls are tested more, they rise to the challenge,” he said.
“Honestly for us, it’s about not putting pressure on ourselves to score, and playing our consistent possession game, and allowing the game to come to us.”
Fortuna at Fort Bragg
The Timberwolves come into the game unbeaten on the year at 15-0-3, including a 13-0-1 run on the way to clinching the North Central League-I championship.
Fortuna, meanwhile, is now 20-1-1 on the year, with the Huskies’ only loss of the season coming six weeks ago at Head Royce in the Bay Area.
The Huskies defeated Oakland Military Institute 3-1 in Saturday’s quarterfinal, while the Timberwolves edged Cloverdale 1-0.