The 2016 high school soccer season is still in its infancy, but Monday will be as significant of a day as you’ll find in early September.
The fourth annual Westchester vs. Rockland Challenge will be held at the World Class Soccer Complex in Orangeburg and all five games will impact the pecking order in Section 1. The top four teams in the Class A rankings will be competing — Pearl River, Byram Hills, Tappan Zee and Lakeland — and whichever team impresses the most will likely stake a claim to the No. 1 ranking. There are also two intriguing Class AA match-ups, as well as a Class B showdown between Valhalla and Albertus Magnus.
All told, Monday will mark the first noteworthy day of the new season. Let’s take a crack at some predictions…
Albertus Magnus vs. Valhalla, 2 p.m. on Field 1: Last year’s meeting between these Class B contenders went down to the wire, with Albertus equalizing in the 72nd minute before Kaio DaSilva won it for Valhalla in the 78th. DaSilva and a host of others have graduated for the Vikings, but they got off to a nice start with a 2-0 win over Croton-Harmon in their season-opener on Friday. Ricky Thomas is a name to remember for a Valhalla team that wants to prove it’s still a threat. Prediction: Valhalla 2, Albertus Magnus 1
North Rockland vs. Scarsdale, 2 p.m. on Field 5: Scarsdale is coming off of a 15-win season and a trip to the Class AA semifinals, which makes it fair to label the Raiders as the favorite. But North Rockland is returning its core after a middling season in 2015 and believes its ready to take a step forward. The Red Raiders opened with a lopsided 4-1 win over Carmel on Friday and would love to make a statement against a well-respected Scarsdale squad. Prediction: North Rockland 1, Scarsdale 0
Byram Hills vs. Tappan Zee, 4 p.m. on Field 1: Are the Bobcats and the Dutchmen developing a bit of a rivalry? If they keep playing nail-biters like they did last year, that certainly could be the case. Byram held off TZ in overtime during last season’s Westchester vs. Rockland Challenge, but the Dutchmen got the last laugh in the playoffs with an overtime victory of their own in the Class A semis. That loss has haunted the Bobcats since, and with many returners from that team, they’ll be highly-motivated for this one. Prediction: Byram Hills 2, Tappan Zee 1
Mamaroneck vs. Suffern, 4 p.m. on Field 5: Some coaches are calling the Mounties a sleeper in Class AA this season because of their experience and team speed, which should make this an entertaining game to watch. The Tigers also boast a seasoned roster with a lot of returning talent, and they’ll be looking to show that the preseason hype is warranted. A quality win here would reinforce Mamaroneck’s status as one of the front-runners in Class AA. Prediction: Mamaroneck 3, Suffern 1
Lakeland vs. Pearl River, 6:30 p.m. on Field 5: This game will be the main event and features the match-up with the most history. The Hornets and the Pirates have established a tradition of playing each other annually, and about five years ago, it was Lakeland which owned the rivalry. In more recent history, it’s been Pearl River with the upper hand, including a 2-1 win during their championship season last year. The Hornets may have the deeper team in 2016, but the Pirates’ grind-it-out style of play always seems to give them trouble. This may be the toughest game to pick, and it’s definitely worth sticking around for. Prediction: Pearl River 3, Lakeland 2