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BOYS SOCCER: PCL Playoffs Rarely Finish According to Script

By John Knebels Photos: Donna Eckert, 10/19/23, 3:45PM EDT


Photos: Donna Eckert & Zack Beavers

By: John Knebels

PHILADELPHIA – One seed or eight seed . . . Gaudy statistics or subpar numbers . . . Scorching hot or ice cold . . . Heavily favored or decided underdog.

Doesn’t matter.

Philadelphia Catholic League boys’ playoff soccer routinely embodies the adage “That’s why you play the game.” Regardless of what makes sense on paper, every team realizes that a few weird bounces, a questionable official’s call, a suddenly acrobatic goaltender, or a few clanked goalposts often results in a shocking upset – or darn close to one.

Still, since the beginning of the regular season back on September 8, every program’s primary goal has been to put itself in position to ultimately capture a PCL championship.

That time has arrived.

On Friday, quarterfinal playoffs begin. Astute students of the PCL can pinpoint several examples of how logic has often taken a backseat to thrilling dramatics. In fact, four of the past five seasons have offered full-fledged proof of the fickle nature of PCL soccer.

Last year, Archbishop Ryan entered as a five seed with a 6-3-2 record. The Raiders then upset four-seed Roman Catholic, three-seed La Salle, and top-seed Father Judge for the title, allowing only one goal in the three contests. Earlier in the quarterfinals, following a PCL trend involving snake-bitten two-seeds, Archbishop Wood had lost, 1-0, to seven-seed Conwell-Egan while eight-seed St. Joseph’s Prep had taken top-seed Father Judge to penalty kicks after a scoreless two overtimes. The Crusaders survived by outscoring the proud-but-devastated Hawks, 5-4.

In 2021, two-seed Archbishop Wood lost to seven-seed Lansdale Catholic, 3-2, in overtime, after having easily defeated the Crusaders, 4-1, three weeks earlier. In 2019, two-seed Father Judge lost to seven-seed Archbishop Ryan, 1-0, in the quarters. In 2017, two-seed Roman Catholic entered the postseason an almost flawless 10-1, yet needed penalty kicks to dispatch seven-seed Lansdale Catholic, who had squeaked into the dance with an unimpressive eighth place (but seven seed) record of 3-5-3.    

So when higher-seed coaches claim they’re not looking past an opponent, they’re not just giving coach-speak. And when lower-seed coaches remind players they have the ability to stun the soccer world, they’re not whispering sweet nothings.

Which leads us to a much-anticipated Friday. 

(8) St. Joseph’s Prep at (1) Father Judge

Records: Father Judge 11-0; SJ Prep 3-7-1

Where and When: 3:15 at Ramp Playground

Regular Season: Visiting Judge beat Prep, 3-0, in last Friday’s regular-season finale.

Father Judge Notes: Crusaders are pursuing first title since 2013 and fifth overall . . . Enter the tournament undefeated and on a four-game shutout streak . . . Outscored playoff teams by league-best 20-5 and allowed only seven goals total . . . Went 2-0 in overtime . . . Key win: After losing to Archbishop Ryan in last year’s final, gained some revenge with a 1-0 overtime win at Ryan on September 16.

Crusader Chat: “What you did during the season is over,” Judge coach John Dunlop said. “It is always important to play your best now. If not, you’ll be sitting on the sidelines watching. My guys know the history. It’s bragging rights for everyone. We’ve been successful with everyone pitching in playing their roles.”

St. Joseph’s Prep Notes: Program’s lone title occurred in 2010 . . . Hawks can use last year’s flirtation with an all-time PCL upset bid as motivation . . . Outscored by 10-2 during current four-game losing streak . . . Outscored 17-3 with a record of 0-6-1 against playoff teams . . . Key Win: Defeated Devon Prep, 6-5, in two overtimes after trailing 5-2 in the second half.

Hawk Chat: “We have a challenging task in front of us in facing very talented and well-coached Father Judge,” Prep coach Joe Coyle said. “We were in the same position last year as the eight seed facing the one seed. Our goal is to put forth the similar fire and grit that we showed in the playoffs last year.” 

(7) Roman Catholic at (2) La Salle

Records: La Salle 9-2; Roman Catholic 5-5-1

Where and When: 3:15 at La Salle High School

Regular Season: La Salle edged visiting Roman, 2-1, on October 10.    

La Salle Notes: Explorers won last five games, four of them against playoff teams . . . Went 5-2 against playoff teams with a 12-5 scoring advantage . . . Surrendered only six goals during regulation play . . . Seeking first title since 2021, third in four years, fifth in seven years, seventh since 2011, and 12th overall . . . Key Win: Outlasted visiting Archbishop Ryan, 2-1, in double overtime on September 19.

Explorer Chat: “I always try to get our guys to recognize that playing well should be the main goal every day,” La Salle coach Tom McCaffery said. 

“If players at all levels play well, then we will have a shot to win every time we play. Hopefully, if guys buy into this mentality, then every match matters, and these playoff matches will be the next chance to play well as a group.

“We are fortunate to have a lot of guys who know the history of how tight each match has been over the last several years. They know that every team that is still playing at this time of the year is fully capable of winning the whole thing. Attention to detail and playing at a high tempo in the game plan needs to be the top priority of each player to achieve the ultimate goal.”

Roman Catholic Notes: Cahillites lost three of their last five, each by one goal . . . Amassed a 1-5-1 mark and was outscored 13-6 against playoff teams . . . Lost two games in overtime . . . Only team from the PCL’s old Southern Division to have snared two crowns, the last coming in 2015, followed by four straight defeats in the PCL final, the last two via penalty kicks . . . Key Win: After starting season 2-2-1, stopped host Archbishop Wood, 1-0, on September 26.

Cahillite Chat: “Like any sports tournament, you live for that game in which the lower seed knocks off the big bad teams sitting at the top,” Roman coach Ray DeStephanis said. “The object is to get in and prepare to play the match in front of you. And if anyone says they’re not looking at potential playoff seeding and how each match affects coming down the home stretch affects their placement, I’m not sure they’d be telling the truth. 

“Players are acutely aware of the seesaw nature of the playoffs, especially upperclassmen. 

"These kids all know each other from the neighborhood or club ball. There are no secrets in the Catholic League. Everyone knows who played who tight, what was the deciding factor in a match, you name it. It’s why winning the hubcap is so darn hard.”

(6) Lansdale Catholic at (3) Archbishop Ryan

Records: Archbishop Ryan 9-2; Lansdale Catholic 6-4-1

Where and When: 7:00 at Archbishop Ryan High School

Regular Season: Ryan won a 3-0 decision at LC on October 6. 

Archbishop Ryan Notes: Defending champs and author of PCL second-best 14 titles carry a seven game winning streak . . . Went 5-2 against playoff teams and outscored them by a convincing 14-5 . . . Raiders were undefeated in regulation (8-0), losing in double overtime at La Salle and in overtime versus Father Judge . . . Key Win: Shut out Archbishop Wood, 1-0, in penultimate regular-season finish, which secured a three seed instead of a four seed, thus avoiding possible battle with undefeated Father Judge in semis.

Raider Chat: “For us, we know the feeling of upsetting teams,” Ryan coach Ryan Haney said. “This year's opening test will be a new one, one we are very excited for. Being at home and having the opportunity is exciting. It will be a tough week, and hopefully, the boys will play their best on Friday.”

Lansdale Catholic Notes: This marks the fourth occasion in last seven seasons of placing as a sixth-seed . . . Won three of their last four games . . . Went 3-4 against playoff teams and was outscored by 13-6 . . . Key Win: A convincing 3-0 home win over Roman Catholic on September 16. 

Crusader Chat: “The most important thing as we enter the playoffs is understanding what our team identity is and making sure everything we do in practice and during the game is a reflection of that identity,” Lansdale Catholic coach Casey Farrell said. “It’s crucial we play the way we know how and not get sucked into anyone else’s game. If we can do that, we’ll get the win.

“My guys are well aware the five-seed won it all last year and they’re also well aware that we’re about to play that very team in the first round. 

"It’s nice to know that recent history proves that anything can happen, but that can’t be what we focus on. Ryan is an outstanding team and we have to worry about what’s in front of us first and foremost, not what’s happened in the past.” 

(5) Conwell-Egan at (4) Archbishop Wood

Records: Archbishop Wood 7-4; Conwell-Egan 7-4

Where and When: 3:00 at Munro Park, Warminster  

Regular Season: Wood defeated visiting C-E, 1-0 on October 8.

Archbishop Wood Notes: Coming off consecutive years of losing as a two-seed . . . Vikings lost twice by shutout to close regular season . . . Slightly outscored by 7-6 and finished 3-4 against playoff teams . . . Looking for first title since 2018 and fourth overall. Key Win: Wood used 1-0 win over visiting C-E on October 8 as a tiebreaker for home field instead of a bus ride to Fairless Hills.

Viking Chat: “First and foremost, our goal this year was to get into the playoffs,” Wood coach Hugh Kelly said. “Second was to try and get past the first or second round. Obviously, anything can happen; look at what Ryan did last year. But you can’t do anything if you’re not in the playoffs.”  

Conwell-Egan Notes: After starting 0-2, Eagles completed a 7-2 run, allowing only four goals in the process . . . Outscored 11-7 by playoff teams while winning three of seven . . . Went 2-1 in extra sessions . . . Key Win: In ultra-challenging two-game stretch against the teams that ultimately finished one-two in the standings, Eagles lost, 2-1, in double overtime at Father Judge on September 12 – but then bounced back with 2-1 double overtime win over visiting La Salle on September 16.

Eagle Chat: “Getting into the playoffs was definitely something we set out to do building off of last season’s team performance,” Conwell-Egan coach Mike Rigney said. “We believe any of the eight teams have a chance to win. It’s going to be exciting to see what happens. 

“We saw what happened last year and our players are aware that both the regular season and playoffs are unpredictable. Anyone can go out and compete and win. We will do our best to prepare to our players and see how we can do this year.” 

(Contact John Knebels at or on Twitter @johnknebels.)