Today – Thursday, April 17 – may be the defining day in the boys’ soccer season in the Northwest Conference.
Each team still has between five and seven games remaining before Thursday’s action, but two matchups – Squalicum vs. Sedro-Woolley and Bellingham vs. Sehome – will, or could, have longstanding implications.
Currently, Squalicum (7-0-2 overall, 5-0-0 NWC) holds a two-point advantage over Sedro (8-0-1, 4-0-1), which it faces today at 5 p.m. at Whatcom Community College. The winner will take over control of the conference, and hold a tiebreaker over the other if the two were to tie at the end of the season.
In the case of the Red Raiders and the Mariners, well there’s more at stake than just city pride when the two meet at 7:30 p.m. at Civic Stadium.
While the Storm and Cubs are battling for playoff position, Bellingham and Sehome may very well be fighting for their playoffs lives.
The Red Raiders (5-1-4, 4-1-1) hold the final spot in the 2A playoff picture, with the Mariners (5-2-3, 3-2-1) sitting sixth behind Burlington-Edison. The winner will at very least hold the tiebreaker at the end of the season if the two were to tie for that final spot, with Burlington also factoring into the equation, although the Tigers don’t seem to be on par with either team at this very moment.
Here’s a brief outlook at both games:
Squalicum vs. Sedro-Woolley
Outlook: Squalicum is only getting better. After struggling at times this year by allowing teams back into games, the Storm seem to have remedied that sometimes-lack-of attention and are finishing opponents off. That was the case against both Bellingham and Sehome this year. With that said, Sedro-Woolley comes into this matchup outscoring its opponents 21-0 over the Cubs’ last three games – one of those games was a 15-0 win over Friday Harbor – so clearly they can score. Whether they can score against a defensive group such as Hans Kogan, keeper Trenton Langer, B.J. James and Spencer Wallace remains to be seen, and this will undoubtedly be their toughest test.
Key matchup: Can the forwards of Squalicum beat a Sedro backline that’s only allowed four goals in nine games? My guess is yes, and that’s merely looking at the depth of the Storm lineup. Squalicum coach Joe McAuliffe is playing with an offensive arsenal so vast and deep, fresh bodies continue to pummel opposing defenses. That should continue to be the case.Prediction: Squalicum 2, Sedro-Woolley 0
Bellingham vs. Sehome
Outlook: These two teams are nearly mirror images of one another. Both the Red Raiders and Mariners have had their struggles this season finding go-to scorers on the offensive end, but in Sehome’s case, that problem hasn’t been nearly as bad since its 3-1 loss to Squalicum on April 8. Since that point, the Mariners have outscored their opponents 10-0 over the last two games, and Sam Willis is emerging as a legitimate threat in the NWC. For Bellingham, Noe Betancourt-Cruz continues to face double-teams due to his relentless effort, and sophomore Keegan Nutt may very well grow into that threat coach Matt Zigulis needs. On Tuesday against Squalicum, though, it was Dane Thurston who provided two offensive tries that forced Storm keeper Trenton Langer to make miraculous saves to preserve the shutout. Maybe he is the one that will step up as needed. Regardless, this is going to be a defensive struggle.
Key matchup: Sehome’s Sam Diehl and the Mariners back line vs. Bellingham’s Betancourt-Cruz and Nutt. Diehl is the heart and soul of the Mariners, and if he can lead a group that neutralizes Bellingham’s attack, the Mariners will probably win this game. Diehl, too, is one of the best free-kick takers in the NWC, as he proved against Squalicum, so this game may very well come down to him in that exact situation.Prediction: Sehome 2-1, Diehl converting on a free kick to win it in the second half.