March 23, 2021
By Greg Selber
EDINBURG NORTH at HARLINGEN SOUTH, Saturday at 7 p.m.
South has never really been a soccer powerhouse, especially because it has generally played in a district which included many of the Brownsville dynasties. This marks the program’s sixth playoff appearance since it started in 1994, and ironically 2019 – the last completed season – was the zenith for the Hawks. That year they won a pair of playoff games, including a 3-2 defeat of Econ in bi-district before losing in the third round to Brownsville Hanna. The team took a single victory in the postseason in 1995 and 1996 but was knocked out early in 2011 and 2017, the latter loss coming to none other than Edinburg North, on its way to the final eight that campaign. In 2021, the Hawks started very well, leading the district through much of the run until late losses to Los Fresnos and Brownsville Rivera. They come in as the No. 2 from 32-6A, a league that one could argue is not as formidable as it used to be. This team has scored 43 goals and leaked 19 in district.
Still, North – which scored 40 times and allowed 16 goals in league – faces an uphill challenge, despite fashioning a solid 10-4 mark in district for third place behind EHS and champ Juarez-Lincoln. The Cougars lost to La Joya and EHS, plus Lincoln twice, with draws against Mission and Vela as other blemishes. They are led by goal whiz Axel Saenz, among the Valley’s best offensive weapons, and have a sturdy defense and effective midfielders to get the action going in connection.
EHS at BROWNSVILLE HANNA, Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
EHS, on the other hand, is in against one of the Valley’s traditional greats in Brownsville Hanna. The Eagles have made 19 appearances in the state playoffs, copping 29 wins overall, including two trips to the Final 4, in 1990 and 2013. In the latter season, they made it to the final before dropping a heartbreaker in overtime to Coppell. More significant is the Hanna record against Edinburg schools, which stands at 5-2 all time. The Eagles beat North in 1999 and 2018, EHS in 2011 and 2019, and Econ in 2015, with the Jags defeating them twice, in 2009 and 2012. After the Eagles faced EHS in bi-district 2019, winning 3-0, they knocked off United South and Harlingen South before losing at the regional to SA Reagan.
The Hanna team in this season’s first round is nowhere near as dangerous as its past iterations, having come third in 32-6A behind Los Fresnos and South, scoring 27 goals to 27 for the opponent. The Eagles lost twice to Los Fresnos and split with South and were also beaten by an average (for its lofty standards) Rivera side. Twin victories against Donna North were credible, though the Chiefs are not as good as they were a few years back.
EHS meanwhile started like a house afire with five wins and a draw in 31-6A, only to lose three of four amid injury troubles before finishing with a bang, winning five of its last six, a draw with Vela interrupting the string. The SaberCats narrowly missed out on a playoff berth this season, by the way. The Bobcats have excellent team speed and ability to transition into counters in high gear. They tallied 41 goals and their sturdy defense surrendered just 10.
VELA at HARLINGEN SOUTH, Friday at 7 p.m.
Lady SaberCat fans will remember the last time their team faced off against South, and not fondly. The Lady Hawks rolled to a goal in the first 17 seconds back in 2017 and went on to cap a 7-1 first round rout at home. Par for the course for the program that was the best in the area for two decades before being supplanted by McAllen High.
The early gold standard for girls’ soccer, South recorded a record streak from 1998 to 2011, when it won at least two playoff games 13 times, missing out only in 2003. Included in that run of dominance were an amazing 13 appearances in the regional, and the Lady Hawks defeated EHS (1999), North (2000) and North again (2007) while crunching through the Valley to the Rare Air.
South has been very good the past decade but not as incredible. They took two postseasons win in four different campaigns starting in 2014, and in 2019 made their deepest run ever, advancing five rounds deep before losing the regional final to Lake Travis. Overall, the program has won a whopping 44 playoff games in 21 appearances, going 6-0 against Edinburg schools.
South has been hurt by injuries in 2021 but rebounded from a 0-3 start in league play to make the playoffs as the No. 4. The Lady Hawks were swept in 31-6A by Donna North and Harlingen, splitting with Los Fresnos. In 14 games, they made 52 goals and allowed 15.
Vela arrives with its best chance of advancing through the bracket since the three-deep foray of 2015. The Lady Sabes lapped the field in 31-6A this season, scoring 130 goals to seven for the opposition, and outside of a draw with rival North, whipped the field with ease. They are ranked No. 1 among area 6A sides by the RGV Soccer Coaches Association.
LOS FRESNOS at EHS, Friday at 7 p.m.
This one is a rematch of 2019’s great collision that produced a Lady Bobcat upset of a No. 1 seed. The Lady Falcons, among the Valley’s best for a seven-year stretch starting in 2010, have been eliminated in bi-district in its last two trips. They won 20 times in seven seasons including six trips to the regionals, beating EHS in 2010 and North in 2017 on their way to the fourth round. In the last two playoff runs, Los Fresnos was beaten by P-SJ-A and then EHS in bi-district.
This season the LF squad was moving along in first until losses to Harlingen and Harlingen South, and a late defeat against Donna North meant the Lady Falcons were relegated to the third seed. They dented the net 40 times against 19 in 14 league games.
EHS suffered twin losses to Vela in district and drew twice with Edinburg North; other than that, the Lady ‘Cats were unblemished, sweeping Juarez-Lincoln behind the exploits of senior Leah Sanchez, who has surpassed the 100-goal mark for her career. EHS has attacking prowess, a feisty defensive core, and a reasonable chance of duplicating its postseason win of 2019 over Los Fresnos. The offense produced 56 goals in 16 league games, letting in just 22.
HARLINGEN at EDINBURG NORTH, Friday at 6:30
While not nearly as successful historically as its rival South, Harlingen has enjoyed some glorious moments through time. The Lady Cards have 12 trips to the postseason with 20 victories. Their best performances came at the turn of the century when they made three straight voyages to the regional level starting in 1999. They reached the fourth round again in 2012 before losing to SA Churchill. As for their history with city teams, the Lady Cards beat North in 2001 and 2003, and then were involved in a memorable shootout with Vela in 2018, coming out on top of a 6-5 decision. Harlingen beat North 2-0 in 2019 before dropping out versus Juarez-Lincoln and is 4-0 lifetime against Edinburg sides.
North completed a strong season under first-year coach Gabriel Camarena, with just two defeats, but dropped late, to fourth in the seedings. The team has a terrific defense once again and has scored more goals than it did last season. Harlingen meanwhile went undefeated in its league and was clearly the top side down there, notching 75 goals and giving up only 13, meaning a tough first-round muster for the Lady Cougars, who popped in 57 goals, yielding 22.
Though some of the city teams have engaged in warmup matches – the EHS girls against North Tuesday, for example – the fact is, their opponents from 32-6A have been more active in recent weeks. Because of a number of COVID postponements, the Lower Valley league had still not finished its regular season this week, while the 31-6A hunt ended almost two weeks ago. It remains to be seen whether the inactivity affects the 31-v-32 pairings on the pitch. It may be that with time to rest, recover, train and prepare, the city kids are going to be fresh and ready to explode. On the other hand, with little real pitch time lately, it may be that the teams in question will struggle to regain the polish, mesh, and momentum built during the 16-match district slate.