It might not be wise to bet against St. Francis this season, though they lost several key players who opted to play for the United States Soccer Academy. Gone are junior forward Eric Verso, the reigning All-Area Player of the Year who finished with 26 goals and 10 assists, forward Jake LaPorte and goalkeeper Blake Dawn.
Appels said those players will be hard to replace, but he has a plan in place for the Golden Knights to continue their storied success on the field.
“At some point, those guys have to make a decision about playing for their school or for the academy,” said Appels, the reigning All-Area Coach of the Year. “We’ll see what happens, but we are going to go with the guys who we have here.”
The Golden Knights, who finished fourth in league last season before advancing to the Division I semifinals, will bring back senior defender Max Cadena, junior forward Christian Swart, junior midfielder Garrett Swart and senior forward Kian Chachi.
Getting through the daunting Mission League will be one of St. Francis’ top priorities.
It is expected to battle Crespi, Loyola and Harvard-Westlake for the league championship.
“It’s a new year, and some of the players are new,” said Appels, whose team won 18 matches last season and is ranked No. 4 in the Division I preseason poll behind El Toro, Long Beach Millikan and Loyola. “We have guys who know what it takes to win.
“We saw last year what they can do to put it together. We’ve had a lot of young guys who have put in a lot of work during the offseason to get them to this point.”
Crescenta Valley and Glendale were the other area teams to qualify for the playoffs last season after finishing third and fourth, respectively, in the Pacific League.