By Ray Hamill — Early-season scrimmage or not, when the Arcata and Eureka boys soccer teams face off it’s usually an intense affair.
That was the case once again on Wednesday night, when the H-DNL rivals faced off at Albee Stadium as both programs continue their preparation for the upcoming season.
“We’re just trying to get shapes sorted out and personnel sorted out, but sometimes the players are going to do what they want to do,” Arcata head coach John Davidson said, before adding with a chuckle, “They played like it was a world cup final.”
The Tigers are the defending H-DNL champions after breaking Fortuna’s decade-long stranglehold on the league last fall.
But with eight starting seniors having graduated from that squad, a very new-look Arcata boys team will have to come together quickly if they are to repeat.
The Tigers also played a preseason alumni game last weekend and will officially kick off the new season with two road games down south this weekend.
Arcata plays at Making Waves on Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. and at Calistoga on Saturday at noon.
“This year’s team is younger,” Davidson said. “But it’s not like we’re starting from scratch. This group already has a lot of pieces in place.
“It’s a tight group. They’ve got some good chemistry. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think it’s going to be a rewarding season.”
Davidson and longtime assistant coach Tuck Englemen have some key players returning from the championship-winning squad, most notably senior Noah Macknicki and juniors Daniel Hernandez and Izaiah Grosveld, a trio that is expected to lead the way this fall.
Grosveld will play as an attacking midfielder, while Macknicki will anchor the defense and Hernandez will switch from his traditional left back role to more of an attacking outside midfielder.
“Those three are the guys we’re looking at for leadership,” the head coach said. “But we’ve got a group of seven or eight guys that can move the ball around.
“I think we can make life difficult for Fortuna, who I feel are the (league) favorites.”
Davidson and his assistant coaches knew they would have to fill the shoes of a talented senior class this year and made some moves in 2022 to make the transition easier.
Check out Daniel Hernandez’s late goal against Eureka on Wednesday, with an assist from Daniel Davidson …
They kept a larger squad than usual last season in order to help prepare some of the younger players for the demands of varsity soccer, and Davidson believes that will help the players adjust this fall.
This year, the coaches will carry a smaller squad of just 17 players on varsity, but are also hoping to field a JV team of around 16 players.
Davidson says he is hoping to play some JV games against Fortuna, McKinleyville and Del Norte.
He also likes a lot of what he’s seen from all of his players through preseason practice.
“I come home happy from practice every day,” the coach said. “I’ve known these guys for a long time and I’m so happy to work with players who want to play at the next level. It makes it easier when you have self-motivated players.”
After this weekend’s road trip, the Tigers will continue their preparation for league play at the McKinleyville tournament the following weekend, with a game at home against Fort Brag sandwiched in between on Wednesday evening.