In the early days of the Big Nine Conference, it was easy to get excited about the inherent cross-town and inter-city rivalries within the Tri-Cities in boys soccer.
The league went through several overhauls over the years, which robbed those rivalries of some urgency and meaning.
Under the new Mid-Columbia Conference structure, split formats are a thing of the past and Tri-City teams have relit the same fires that stoked those rivalries in the beginning.
“Less travel is great, and we like being able to play everybody twice — at home and away,” Pasco coach Matt Potter said. “It’s good to get some of those rivalries back. That’s what we like to see.”
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The first few weeks of the season has shown a lot of parity between the teams, and the first MCC championship is still up for grabs.
Here’s a breakdown of the area conferences:
The Kennewick Lions were the toast of the 2012 boys soccer season in the Tri-Cities, cruising to a 15-5 record and their first state tournament trip in 19 seasons.
With the graduation of David Covarrubias, Angel Garcia and Geo Vazquez — the “spine of the team”, according to Lions coach Brian Gochoel — don’t expect Kennewick to fall back much. If anything, they could be even more dangerous with a strong team concept and a top defender in Noe Diaz.
Richland was in the middle of a strong run for a CBBN 4A title last year when Jon Larsen broke his foot. That sidetracked the Bombers’ plans, but Larsen — a two-year captain — is back this year to guide the team, along with first-team all-CBBN forward Austin Herrick.
Pasco will be in the mix again with a priority on defense. Goalkeeper Jon Rosas has been rock solid, and Oswaldo Ayala anchors a strong back line that has excelled early on with four shutouts in five league games despite starting three newcomers.
Watch for Hanford to make huge strides under Mike Pardini, who coached Pasco to the 2007 4A state championship. His former coach at Pasco, Sean Esterhuizen, established a strong winning tradition with the Falcons that he hopes to rekindle.
Midfielders Mario Zarate, Jacob Bogen and defender Kyle McMurrich are returning all-leaguers for the Falcons.
Chiawana came within one game of sharing a league title last year, and the Riverhawks will be hungry to follow through on that vision. Humberto Chavez, Cezar Leon and Anibal Pacheco all return to lead a strong core under coach Rich Zoller.
Kamiakin provided a memorable upset of Pasco in the district playoffs last season, and there’s plenty of talent — and a lot of positive energy — coming back from that team. Midfielders Kolten Brockman and Gil Guizar, plus forward Jose Anguiano will give the Braves an outside shot at a home playoff berth.
Walla Walla may be winless through its first five MCC games, but beware of Blue Devils. Wa-Hi can play with anybody on a given day with the return of all-league returnees Ricardo Saldana and Jose Maya.
Southridge is under new management with Johnny Trevino, a former Suns assistant, taking over for Chip Elfering. His plan is to make Southridge the best-conditioned team in the MCC, and he’ll have four-year starter Conner Mertens and center midfielder Luis Solano to help guide a young group.
Toppenish won the 2012 league title, but look for Grandview to make a strong run at the Wildcats.
The Greyhounds return four players from last year’s all-CWAC squad, including forward Ricardo Serrato and goalkeeper Elmer Campuzano, to help improve on their third-place finish.
Othello graduated two-time CWAC MVP Jorge Campos, but the cupboard isn’t bare. The Huskies will be competitive with one of the best back lines in the league, anchored by returning all-league picks Matt Jones and Miguel Gonzalez.
Look for Selah to make a jump in the standings with first-team forward Eliseo Montiel anchoring the offense.
Highland ran away with the SCAC title last year and they’ll be heavy favorites to repeat with forwards Jesus Gutierrez and Luis Nogales returning up front. Add a pair of all-league defenders in back and you’ve got the recipe for another run at the 1A state title.
It could be fun watching Royal challenge the Scotties, though. The Knights, which finished third in the league standings last year, return two players from the all-league first team in midfielder Christian Guerrero, and defender Alex Myrick.
But Mabton should be right there with them with one of the league’s top midfielders in Crisantos Chavez.
Wahluke has won five state titles since 2000. The Warriors were hit hard by graduation, but coach Arthur DeVictoria does wonders coaching up young players. He’s got two good ones in midfielder Ramon Bravo and Jorge Preciado.
You can’t count out Connell when it comes to league title chases. This year is no different with the return of midfielder Josue Diaz and defender Pedro Hernandez.
Kiona-Benton returns one of the SCAC’s top midfielders in Zachary Metcalf. Coach Marty Martinez is excited for the future after finally being able to field a junior varsity team, and he likes the way his team has competed so far.
Mid-Columbia Conference (from CBBN 3A/4A)
F—Austin Herrick, sr., Richland; Jose Anguiano, jr., Kamiakin.
F—Ricardo Saldana, sr., Walla Walla; Nicolas Reyes, sr., Richland; Cezar Leon, jr., Chiawana. MF—Jonathan Larsen, sr., Richland; Juan Magana, sr., Pasco; Kolten Brockman, sr., Kamiakin. D—Anibal Pacheco, sr., Chiawana.
F—Eliseo Montiel, sr., Selah. D—Matt Jones, sr., Othello.
GK—Elmer Campuzano, sr., Grandview. F—Ricardo Serrato, sr., Grandview; Miguel Penaloza, sr., Othello. MF—Ivan Balbuena, sr., Selah; Gavin Osegueda, sr., East Valley. D—Jorge Barajas, sr., Ellensburg; Armando Robles, sr., Toppenish.
F—Jesus Gutierrez, sr., Highland; Luis Nogales, sr., Highland. MF—Zachary Metcalf, sr., Kiona-Benton; Crisantos Chavez, sr., Mabton; Christian Guerrero, sr., Royal. D—Hector Franco, jr., Granger; Alex Myrick, sr., Royal.
GK—Lupe Arceo, sr., Royal. F—Miguel Muniz, sr., Highland. MF—Josue Diaz, sr., Connell. D—Esau Cervantes, sr., Granger; Tomas Alvarez, jr., Highland; Tony Alvarez, sr., Highland.