By Ray Hamill — The Arcata Tigers will be challenged right out of the starting gates when they open the H-DNL boys soccer season at home to powerhouse Fortuna on Wednesday.
And, according to Arcata head coach John Davidson, his players are primed for what he describes as the local “El Clasico,” the name given to the famous rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
“We’re playing to win,” he said. “The Fortuna game is the best game in the county and we’re so excited to play them. We recognize they’re a great team.”
The Tigers, who were known as the team to beat on the North Coast for years, certainly won’t back down from the challenge against a Huskies program that has become a powerhouse in the H-DNL in recent seasons with seven straight league titles.
But if they are to upset the odds, they’ll have to do so with a lot of new faces after graduation, injuries and academics have all taken their toll this year.
“It’s a new group,” said Davidson, who must replace nine starters. “We lost a lot of returners.”
Key to the team’s challenge on Wednesday and throughout the five-week season will be the play of Davidson’s only three seniors, Dillon Earle-Rouse, Lucien Steinkamp and Ryven Schlichting.
Also back from last year is sophomore goalkeeper Sean Shermer, who took the league by storm as a freshman and has looked as impressive as ever through preseason practice.
The Tigers, however, will have to avoid injuries with just 14 players on their roster, although the coach likes their versatility and says he will move players around.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that can play a lot of positions,” he said. “This group is versatile.”
The second-year coach also expects his team to be disciplined and “defensive minded” in their approach.
“They’re guys that know how to play together and get compact and communicate,” he said. “They’re little warriors. I’m really, really impressed with them. They’re getting the job done.”
Wednesday’s games will be the first high school soccer games played here in 16 months, and Davidson says his players appreciate being back out there.
“Let’s celebrate the seniors,” he said. “They had a weird year. Their legacy is different to every other senior ever.”
While their fields are being renovated, the Arcata soccer teams will play their home games at McKinleyville High.
Wednesday’s kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m., with the Fortuna and Arcata girls playing at 3:30 p.m.
And Davidson is confident his team will have success in the coming weeks.
“The results are gonna come,” he said. “I know that with this group.”