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NCS Finals Preview

I can’t believe the season is ending tomorrow. It’s been a great season, too bad it has to end.
Let’s dive right in…

Division I

The matchup: No. 1 De La Salle (17-5-3) v. No. 6 California (16-3-6), 7:30 p.m.

The storyline: The De La Salle soccer team is a machine. Since a not-so-good showing in San Diego in December, this team has gone 12-1-2. As far as North Coast Section dominance the last two years, there is no finer team than the Spartans. They come into this game as the clearcut favorite.
“What can I say about De La Salle?,” California coach Chris Faidley said. “They finish second nationally last year and follow that up with another EBAL title. Brian’s (Voltattorni) got them playing so well, they’ve coasted through the playoffs so far. We’ll have to play a terrific game, limit mistakes and take advantage of opportunities. If everyone loves an underdog, they’ve got one in Cal.”
According to nearly every single person on this blog, the Grizzlies have no chance. That is exactly gives them a chance. Cal is going to be fired up after a very big, emotional come-from-behind win on top of getting no respect. The Grizzlies are loose and ready to play.
“I love these boys,” Faidley said. “I told them today they are good for me. I’m always thinking “What’s next? What do we need to do now?” These guys can find a way to laugh and enjoy life in any situation. They’ve helped me to slow down and enjoy the ride, occasionally.”

Key matchups: The obvious matchup would be to choose Cal’s attacking mid, Guillermo Rivas, against De La Salle’s center mid, in Wesley Moar. Clearly two of the best players in the East Bay. The players I will keep my eye on will be Cal’s Andrew Noble and Andre Rawls, and De La Salle’s Justin Howard and J.T. Tallarman.
Noble will need to spearhead a defense that had a couple of mental lapses against San Ramon Valley. Rawls, a very good keeper, is the reason that Cal was only facing a 3-0 deficit instead of a 5-0, or 6-0 hole on Wednesday.
Noble, Rawls and the rest of the Cal back line will have their hands full against the very talented Howard and Tallarman.

Division II

The matchup: No. 1 Bishop O’Dowd (20-0-5) v. No. 3 Dublin (19-3-3), 2:30 p.m.

The storyline: Only rivaled by De La Salle in NCS dominance, the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons have been the premier Division II team in the East Bay, and have been thoroughly dominant for the last two seasons, going 41-2-9. They are back in the Division II finals and looking to avenge last year’s loss to Acalanes in penalty kicks.
“They are very disciplined,” Dublin coach James Fulwiler said. “They aren’t purely an offensive team or a defensive team. They are balanced, and they play structured soccer. Our styles of play are actually very similar.”
So what’s the key difference between the two teams?
“They are absolutely huge,” Fulwiler said. “I need to get my boys not to be intimidated by their size.”
The Dragons know where the advantage lies as well.
“I think we match up with size,” Bishop O’Dowd coach Peter Belanger said. “I think the game could possibly come down to set pieces. We scored two goals on Acalanes, the first time anyone has scored two on them all year, when everyone said that we wouldn’t.”
There is another difference between the two teams. O’Dowd is used to being on this stage. This is a season of first’s for Dublin, including this first trip to the finals. But the Gaels are ready.
“We celebrated a little after Albany, but on Thursday there was no more time for celebration,” Fulwiler said. “We have to go through our second consecutive undefeated team if we want to win this championship.”

Key matchups: Jamie Somerville v. Charlie Ranahan in the middle would have been a great matchup, but unfortunately Ranahan, probably O’Dowd’s heart and soul, suffered a season-ending knee injury against Acalanes. The Dragons will have to adjust without the motor that makes them go.
“With Charlie out of the middle we’ll simply do the best we can,” Belanger said. “We’ve endured many things this year as a team and I think because of that we are stronger collectively.”
So where can O’Dowd make up for it? Well, it’s his twin brother, Drew Ranahan. The Dragons sweeper will be instrumental in locking down Dublin forwards Cody Hoster and Trevor Weir.
On the other end, with Max Ornstil, Taylor Reitz and Carson Swafford being extremely aggressive, Dublin’s sophomore sweeper, Oliver Castillo, will be relied upon a lot.
“He’s had a phenomenal NCS playoff run,” Fulwiler said. “Against Albany, anytime the runner’s came at him, he just kept shutting them down.”

Matt Smith