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Nation's best clash at the Gateway Classic

9/29/2011
Sheldon Shealer/ESPNHS

Fifty-nine boys’ soccer teams representing 12 states gather in St. Louis this weekend for the most significant regular-season event on the calendar – the Gateway Soccer Classic.

This three-day stretch, starting Thursday afternoon, could make or break national title hopes for at least a trio of programs. It’s also where teams have a chance to earn a national ranking on the field.

In total, nine of the current POWERADE FAB 50 teams will be competing at the Gateway Soccer Classic and this year’s event features a blockbuster showdown of two perennial national powers that own two of the nation’s longest-active undefeated streaks. In addition to the talented teams, the Gateway Soccer Classic features nearly 20 players that are under consideration for the high school all-America game, which is scheduled to be held during the weekend of the NCAA Men’s College Cup in Birmingham, Ala.

ESPNHS will be reporting from the event each day. In additional, five matches will be aired live on Prepcasts.com, including the A and B brackets championships Saturday afternoon, along with the Saturday evening clash between POWERADE FAB 50 No. 4 DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) and No. 5 Jesuit (Carmichael, Calif.).

The 59 teams are divided into five eight-team tournaments, three round-robin events and a series of Showcase contests. POWERADE FAB 50 No. 9 Cherry Creek (Englewood, Colo.), No. 15 Rockhurst (Kansas City, Mo.), No. 30 Granite Bay (Granite Bay, Calif.) and No. 49 SLUH (St. Louis, Mo.) are in Bracket A. No. 3 Marquette University (Milwaukee, Wis.), No. 19 DeSmet (St. Louis, Mo.) and No. 32 Evansville Memorial (Evansville, Ind.) will be competing in round robin contests. DeMatha and Jesuit will be featured in the Showcase matches.

ESPNHS offers the following five team story lines to watch from this marquee event:

Battle For No. 1: It’s possible all four Top 10 teams can emerge undefeated at the event. In order for that to happen, Cherry Creek would need to win the coveted Bracket A title, Marquette would needs to sweep its round-robin matches and DeMatha and Jesuit would need Showcase wins before playing to a draw Saturday night. Any other outcome will play a role in re-ordering the Top 10 next week.

By The Rules: The state of Wisconsin allows its programs one trip to a non-contiguous state per year. Since Marquette University scheduled a visit to California next week, the only way it could compete in the Gateway Soccer Classic is if Marquette plays all of its matches in Illinois. Therefore, Marquette will not be playing for a bracket title, but instead be involved in a mixer with Evansville Memorial, Lake Forest Academy (Lake Forest, Ill.) and Vianney (St. Louis, Mo.).

Home Field Advantage?: Many out-of-state teams compete at Gateway when they have teams worthy of the competition. By contrast, the St. Louis private schools generally compete every year – regardless. Despite that seemingly disadvantaged position of the St. Louis schools, they have mustered a staggering 26-5-1 record during the six-year history of the event. The five St. Louis proviate schools have combined for five bracket championships.

Winner Take-All: Although Bracket B does not have a current FAB 50 squad in the eight-team field, five of the programs have been in the FAB 50 at various points over the past three years. Therefore, the winner of this group could very well earn itself a national ranking come next Tuesday. Teams most likely to make a strong showing include Washburn Rural (Topeka, Kan.), Denver East (Denver, Colo.) and Quincy (Quincy, Ill.).

Stacked Group: DeSmet is featured in a four-team round-robin event with Ballard (Louisville, Ky.), Middleton (Middleton, Wis.) and Zionsville (Zionsville, Ind.). DeSmet currently tops the St. Louis Post-Dispatch large-school rankings and checks in at No. 19 in the FAB 50. Meanwhile, Ballard was a preseason Top 25 team but got bounced following a pair of shootout losses. Middleton has been a fringe FAB 50 team and strong performance in St. Louis could be the push it needs to crack the rankings. Meanwhile, Zionsville is a recent Indiana state champion. From top to bottom, this might be the most competitive round-robin group at the event this year.

Schedule Watching

The following are three key matches for each of the three days

Thursday

No. 9 Cherry Creek vs. No. 49 SLUH – SLUH is the defending champ. Cherry Creek suffered its only loss of 2010 last year at the Gateway Soccer Classic.

No. 15 Rockhurst vs. Peoria Notre Dame (Peoria, Ill.) – Here’s a rare first-round meeting between defending state champions.

Christian Brothers College (St. Louis, Mo.) vs. St. Anthony’s (South Huntington, N.Y.) – This outcome could go a long way in determining the relative strength between programs from New York to Kansas. St. Anthony’s already competed in Ohio and CBC faces programs from Illinois and Kansas during the regular season.

Friday

No. 32 Evansville Memorial vs. Vianney – Both teams are state title contenders and this meeting could help sort out which state is strong this fall.

Chaminade (St. Louis, Mo.) vs. Pennsbury (Fairless Hills, Pa.) – While neither team holds a national ranking this year, these are two dangerous programs capable of playing with the nation’s elite.

Neuqua Valley (Naperville, Ill.) vs. O’Fallon (O’Fallon, Ill.) – Neuqua Valley is a perennial Top 10 team in the Chicago area while O’Fallon is making a bid to be the state title favorite from the south.

Saturday

Bracket A final – A national Top 10 ranking could be at stake.

Bracket B final – A potential place in next week’s FAB 50 could be on the line.

No. 5 Jesuit vs. No. 4 DeMatha – Jesuit’s undefeated streak stands at 69 matches. DeMatha is riding a 32-match undefeated streak. A result here could strength the case for No. 1 consideration for either program while a loss will end any chance at the POWERADE FAB 50 No. 1 ranking for 2011.