vs. Greater Atlanta Christian
When: 3:30 p.m. today
Records: Riverside (10-5); GAC (15-2)
Seeds: Riverside No. 2 Area 15 A/AA; GAC No. 1 Area 11 A/AA
Coaches: Riverside Military, Diego Vacca; GAC, Thom Jacquet
Outlook: Not having played a game since their 4-0 loss to Chestatee on April 3 in the Northeast Mountains Cup, the Eagles open the state playoffs against one of the top soccer programs in the state.
The second-ranked Spartans enter today’s game riding a seven-game winning streak during which they have outscored their opponents 32-5. Leading the way for GAC is senior Chris Thomas, who scored all three goals in the season finale win over sixth-ranked Wesleyan, which handed the Spartans one of their only two losses this season.
Despite the long layoff, the Eagles are coming off one of their most successful seasons, going 10-5 with four shutout wins in their return to GHSA. Riverside is powered by strong defense and the scoring ability of senior Daniel Vergara.
vs. Oconee County
When: 7:30 tonight
Records: Johnson (12-5); Oconee County (12-4)
Seeds: Johnson No. 4 Area 7-AAA; Oconee County No. 1 Area 8-AAA
Coaches: Johnson, Brian Shirley; Oconee County, Colin Connors
Outlook: After winning seven games in a row, the sixth-ranked Knights ended the regular season on a down note with two straight losses. The final loss was the most costly as Johnson would have won the area title and secured a home game in Round 1 had it been able to beat Gainesville on penalty kicks.
Instead, the Knights hit the road to face the No. 10 Warriors, who have won seven in a row and have outscored their opponents 33-2 in that span. Defense is Oconee County’s strength, as it has surrendered only 12 goals all season.
Throughout the season, Johnson had no trouble finding the back of the net, but the Knights have only scored once in their two-game losing streak.
Led by the midfield play of Chris Henry, Juan Morfin and Vicente Trujillo, the Knights have plenty of weapons to pester the Warriors. Henry’s long throw-ins have the ability to get the Knights scoring opportunties and Johnson has capitalized on that strategy multiple times this year.
vs. Stephens County
When: 7:45 tonight
Records: Gainesville (12-4); Stephens County (11-5)
Seeds: Gainesville No. 3 Area 7-AAA; Stephens County No. 2 Area 8-AAA
Coaches: Gainesville, Richard Howard; Stephens County, Bob Nickerson.
Outlook: The Red Elephants picked the perfect time to play their best soccer. Facing the possibility of missing the postseason, Gainesville battled Johnson to a win in penalty kicks in the regular season finale to reach the playoffs. The win over the Knights was Gainesville’s sixth in its last seven and set up a first-round meeting with a Stephens County team that is 0-4 against teams from Area 7-AAA.
Although the Indians enter the playoffs riding a seven-game winning streak, the team has not fared well against Gainesville’s area, losing 7-0 to West Hall, 2-0 to Flowery Branch and 5-1 to North Hall. Gainesville only beat one of those teams — a 2-0 win over the Falcons — but the Red Elephants have outscored their last seven opponents 25-9 and have one of the best goalies in the state in senior Phillip Gaines.
Stephens County’s goalie and defense are also stellar, recording three straight shutouts to end the regular season.
vs. Franklin County
When: 7:30 tonight
Records: West Hall (14-3); Franklin County (6-6)
Seeds: West Hall No. 1 Area 7-AAA; Franklin County No. 4 Area 8-AAA
Coaches: West Hall, Wolfgang Jager; Franklin County, Larry Printz.
Outlook: Despite a couple of hiccups along the way, West Hall ended the season just as it started with a five-game winning streak. The biggest and most convicing wins came at the conclusion of the season when the Spartans beat rival Johnson 2-0 to win the Northeast Mountains Cup title, and then beat Creekview 2-0 to win the Area 7-AAA title.
West Hall is led by the dynamic playmaker Juan Arbelaez, who controls the midfield and sets up the offense with his ball possession and perfectly executed set plays.
But Arbeleaz isn’t alone in the machine that is West Hall soccer. The senior is aided by the play of Rudy Vazquez and Gerson Mejia on offense, and Israel Del Toro, Esteban Romero, Tino Vazquez and Alex Munoz on defense.
If Franklin County is able to get past that defense, it will have a tough time getting past goalie Jamie King, who has allowed just one goal during the team’s winning streak, and that came during a 7-1 win over Riverside Military Academy.