By Ray Hamill — The Fortuna boys have begun the defense of their league title in soccer this week, as the new H-DNL season gets under way.
The question is can they retain the title they have won eight straight times (really nine if you include the COVID-shortened spring 2021 season), or will one of their rivals step up this year to ensure a new outright champion for the first time in almost a decade.
Early indications are that this could be the year we see a new champion, although the Huskies won’t go down without a fight.
The Fortuna boys, who feature a new-look young lineup this year, kicked off at Del Norte on Tuesday afternoon and fell 3-0 to the host Warriors.
Arcata, meanwhile, appears to be the team to beat this year, with Eureka looking like the closest challengers.
The two teams have faced off twice in the preseason, in a scrimmage at Arcata and in the championship game at the Mack tournament, which the Tigers won 2-0 on a pair of penalty kicks.
Seniors Ethan Gyenis and Josiah Gomez are back to lead the way on a deep Arcata squad that pushed the Huskies all the way last year.
Gyenis, the reigning league MVP, scored a hat trick in an early 4-1 win over Fortuna, a victory that ended the Huskies’ seven-year unbeaten run against H-DNL teams and one that signaled the Tigers’ intent.
For the Loggers, junior Tomas Paoli is back to help set the tone for a balanced team that has some depth and one that appears to have enough pieces to challenge the Tigers.
Del Norte, meanwhile, got the new campaign off to an impressive start with the win over the defending champions up north on Tuesday.
Sophomore Brandt Pennington hit two first-half penalties and freshman Deken Hanks added an unassisted second-half strike.
“It was a good team effort by my boys, accomplished by grit, handwork and good offensive play, especially in the first half,” head coach David Sanyaolu said. “Fortuna played well in the second half but our defense was solid.”
According to Fortuna head coach Daniel Holmes, his team showed improvement as the game were on.
“Our age is definitely showing and that’s okay,” he said. “We are willing to put in the work. We will take it one match at a time.”
The McKinleyville Panthers, meanwhile, also feature a young lineup this fall, but one that has been playing smart soccer as the players continue to develop.
They might be a long shot for the league title, but expect the Panthers to pick up some big wins along the way.
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