It was the night the Allderdice boys soccer team had a chance to make WPIAL history, but the team was focused solely on a former City League rival.
A Fox Chapel win against Penn Hills on Monday night and Allderdice would qualify for the WPIAL playoffs, becoming the first City boys soccer team to do so since the WPIAL and City League co-op agreement began last season.
Yet the Dragons were not on hand as a team at the Fox Chapel/Penn Hills game. They practiced on Monday from 3-5 p.m. and prepared for a Tuesday clash against Obama Academy, which the Dragons lost, 2-1.
"We know that it is not in our hands," Allderdice coach Sam Bellin said on Monday night. "We have a big game with Obama; we are going to focus on that. We decided to focus on getting our homework done."
While the players and coaches had all eyes on their regular-season finale, they could not help but have an ear to what was going on Monday night at Fox Chapel.
The news was good, Fox Chapel defeated Penn Hills, 12-0, meaning Allderdice's 5-6-1 section record was good enough for third place in Class AAA Section 3 and good enough for a WPIAL playoff berth. They are 7-9-1 overall.
The Dragons had thought last season was their year to make a playoff push. They were coming off a 2011 campaign in which they won 20 games, won the City League title and finished 5-1 against WPIAL competition. Allderdice returned three four-year starters who were bound for collegiate soccer programs -- Jonas Portillo, Jon Muniain and Aedan Marty.
The Dragons quickly found out just how tough the transition to WPIAL soccer could be. Things never panned out and Allderdice finished 6-9-2 and 3-7-2 in Section 3, 31/2 games out of playoff contention.
"Last year we thought we were going to have a good team," Bellin said. "It turned out we just weren't ready for the WPIAL in a number of ways. I thought we were going to be right there last year, and in some ways we were. We lost a lot of close games. The difference in the WPIAL, especially in Triple-A, is that teams were so much faster, fitter, stronger, bigger, more physical and more aggressive than we were used to."
Going into this season Allderdice knew the gap from where it was last year and where it needed to be to make the postseason and the Dragons knew it was not going to be easy to close that gap with four senior starters from last season graduating and five sophomores starting.
"It is certainly an achievement for the boys to be the first Allderdice team and first City League team to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs, especially at the Triple-A level and especially in a difficult section," Bellin said. "WPIAL soccer is very strong. For us to be able to have that kind of success just in the second year, it is a nice accomplishment for the boys."
The Allderdice defense was anchored by two juniors, Franck Fotie and Jakob Wells and sophomore Harrison Smith. Fotie starts at center back, Smith is a right back and Wells can play either outside or center back.
Sophomore Ever Rodriguez is the leading scorer on the team with 11 goals and 5 assists. He was a starter as a freshman.
"[Rodriguez] is a fast, tricky player and very dangerous," Bellin said.
Rodriguez and sophomore midfielder Tim Pugh are a dangerous 1-2 combination on the offensive attack. Pugh at 6 feet 6 is described by Bellin as a finesse player with some of the best footwork on the team. He is second on the team in scoring with 5 goals and 7 assists.
Senior midfielders Jordan Long and Caleb Stotz have emerged as team leaders this season.
"They are strong all-around athletes and fierce competitors," Bellin said. "They play unselfishly and I think they really help set the tone for the younger guys."
There has been plenty of leadership from senior captains Emmet Hollingshead and Cameron Fels. Hollingshead has five goals and Fels is one of the strongest defenders on the team.
The playoff clinch became official Monday night but Bellin said he started to see the seeds of this sewn during the offseason.
Players began being year-round soccer players as participation in club soccer tripled to about 20 players, nearly the entire roster was able to run a mile in less than 5:45 on the first day of training camp and the weight room was filled throughout the offseason.
"Clearly the boys learned a lesson," Bellin said. "They became more physical and played more soccer."
Now the Dragons will be playing even more soccer.
First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM