Commentary

Banged-up Knights remain perfect

Updated: May 8, 2009, 4:14 PM ET
By Sheldon Shealer | ESPNRISE.com

The Thomas Dale High School (Chester, Va.) boys' soccer team would be dangerous if it could ever get its projected starting 11 on the field at the same time.

Even without, the Knights are doing pretty well.

Thomas Dale, which claimed FAB 50 spring boys' soccer national titles in 2005 and 2006, is off to a 10-0-0 start and has climbed to No. 5 in this week's FAB 50 rankings.

Standout Will Bates, a Virginia signee, has scored 15 goals in six matches for the Knights. He missed part of the high school season while training with the under-18 national team, and he might be off to Portugal with the under-18s later this month. North Carolina State signee Daniel Comer has played only three matches while nursing a hamstring injury. Thomas Dale coach Mark Fowler said up to six projected starters have been out at various times due to nagging injuries.

"Thank goodness we have the depth to cover it," Fowler said.

Thomas Dale's projected starting lineup is comprised of 11 players who compete in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, mostly for the Richmond Kickers club program.

With Comer out and Bates splitting between high school and national team duties, Thomas Dale has turned to midfielder Matt Crusco for leadership. His two goals and seven assists, says Fowler, does not begin to show his value to the squad in terms of maintaining possession and getting the ball into attacking situations.

Another standout this season as been freshman Dan Lauretano, a left back who was a member of the Super Y All-America under-15 squad last summer.

As Fowler sizes up this team, he says its draws favorable comparisons to the 2005-2006 juggernaut that won 48 straight matches and back-to-back Virginia Group AAA state titles.

"If we stay healthy, we are that strong," Fowler admitted. "Unfortunately, we are taping over cracks at the moment. We could have everyone back in time for the state tournament, but first we have to get there."

On The Rise: Ankeny (Iowa)

Being perfect has its benefits as Ankeny, a recent state champion, is finding out. This program started the year behind traditional powers Valley (West Des Moines), Iowa City West (Iowa City), Dowling Catholic (West Des Moines), and Bettendorf in the Iowa state rankings. A 10-0 start put Ankeny at No. 25 in this week's FAB 50. The team will be even higher in next week's rankings as it kicked off this week with a victory over No. 13 West Des Moines Valley.

Top Newcomer: John F. Kennedy (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

Kennedy's victory over former state No. 1 Iowa City West last week vaulted the Kennedy boys' program to No. 28 in this week's FAB 50. Kennedy is one of three schools to have its spring boys' and girls' teams ranked in the FAB 50, joining Parkview (Lilburn, Ga.) and Ankeny (Iowa).

Around the Nation: Park City (Utah) is making the most of a second chance. This perennial Utah 3A state power closed school due to the swine flu and in the process placed its sports season on hold during the playoff run. The Utah state association had to decide whether to work with Park City on the situation or require the soccer team to drop out of the playoffs. The association opted to allow Park City, the defending champs, into the tournament and stack its early round matches to get caught up to the playoff draw. Park City won its first two matches with ease, including a 5-0 win over Ben Lomond (Ogden, Utah) in the state quarterfinals. & Conway (Ark.) has run its winning streak to a national best 42 matches. The team is three wins away from repeating as Arkansas' state champions. A regular-season victory over Putnam City North (Oklahoma City, Okla.) will help gauge Conway against the best programs from Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia through a series of common opponents.

Sheldon Shealer covers youth soccer for ESPNRISE.com. He can be reached at Sheldon.Shealer@espn.com.