By Rubin E. Grant
Homewood boys soccer coach Sean McBride would like for his team to fly under the radar.
But that’s nearly impossible, considering the Patriots are the defending Class 6A champions, are ranked No. 1 this season and haven’t lost a game in nearly two years.
The Patriots went into spring break last week with an 11-0-3 record. They were also undefeated last season (24-0-2), when they won the Class 6A crown. Their last loss came in the quarterfinals of the 2017 playoffs when they fell 2-1 on penalty kicks (3-2) to eventual champion Pelham.
Homewood carried an undefeated streak of 40 games (35-0-5) into its contest Tuesday at Florence, ranked No. 10 in Class 7A.
“Coach McBride is a great coach, and he keeps us focused,” senior striker Jackson Wallace said. “We call it ‘The Streak’ and we definitely feel the pressure mounting to keep it going, but that’s not what’s motivating us.
“Our ultimate goal is to win the state championship. If that means going undefeated, that’s an added bonus, but it’s not that important for us to go undefeated.”
McBride is surprised the Patriots are undefeated so far this season since they graduated five starters off their 2018 championship team.
They have had a few close calls against top-notch competition. Their three ties have come at Huntsville, 1-1 in the season-opener; against Ft. Payne, 1-1 while winning the Florence Soccer Challenge during the first weekend of March; and against Mountain Brook, 2-2 in the Birmingham Metro Tournament three weeks ago.
Huntsville is currently ranked No. 5 in Class 7A, Ft. Payne No. 4 in Class 6A and Mountain Brook No. 4 in 7A.
“We have had a few results go our way,” McBride said. “A couple of draws could’ve ended up in defeats, but the kids held firm. We are entering the business end of the season now so we will see how things end up.”
Homewood is scheduled to play at Altamont (No. 4 1A-3A) on Thursday, then play host to Spain Park (No. 11 7A) on Friday.
Wallace sounded the take-one-game-at-a-time mantra as the Patriots head down the home stretch of the regular season.
“We’re just focused on the next game,” he said. “Before each game and at halftime of each game the senior leaders on the team get everybody together and decide what (they) need to do to win the game and how to get it done.”
Depth Contributes to Wins
For the most part, the formula for winning has been getting contributions throughout a deep, experienced roster that has 18 seniors. Homewood has recorded eight shutouts and allowed only eight goals in 14 games.
“All the players are working hard and having fun,” McBride said. “It is a different team from last year, so they have to put their own stamp on this season.
“We have a lot of seniors who want to finish their season and their high school soccer careers on a high.”
McBride named a few players who have stood out, including Wallace, senior striker Connor Smith and senior defender-midfielder Collins Keith, who was the MVP in the Florence tournament.
“Connor Smith has carried on from last season, and Collins Keith has been a rock in our defense,” McBride said. “Keefer Boone (center back) and Matthew Henderson (midfielder) are consistent and probably don’t get the credit they deserve. Jackson Wallace, like Connor, continues to score important goals.”
Smith is headed to Lee University to play college soccer, while teammate Bryan Arteaga, a defender, will play at Birmingham-Southern College.
McBride believes the Patriots are capable of a repeat, with a few breaks.
“If we can steer clear of injuries and come back with the same focus we had before spring break, then hopefully, yes, we can make a deep run in the postseason,” he said.