The Shore Conference Boys Soccer Tournament is scheduled to begin Thursday afternoon, weather permitting, and this year’s field is packed with a whopping 30 teams. While it remains to be seen if more teams means more upsets, it does technically (and obviously) make for more potential champions. There are a few teams in the field that don’t seem to have much of a chance to make it out of the first round, but sources have indicated that all teams will be allowed to field 11 players and start their games tied at zero.

That being the case, every team has some measure of a chance to make a run, and over the next 24 hours, you can read one man’s interpretation of the field and how each of its teams stack up against the rest. The 30 teams will be ranked, in descending order, on their chances to win the whole thing, or at least get to the semifinals in Neptune. Think of it as handicapping by a guy who does not know how to create mathematically functional odds.

We’ll start with the first 10 in the field, followed by the next 10, and then the top 10. Seeding has very little to do with the list; the most important factors are how a team is playing, how well a team is likely to play and, most notably, the ever-important draw. The more manageable the path to the semifinals, the better the odds.

The time for talk is almost over. But for now, let’s talk some more.

 

30. Asbury Park

Seed: 30
First-Round Opponent: At No. 3 Toms River North
Reason to Believe: Two years ago, Asbury Park went to Toms River North with a seed in the high-twenties and almost took down the Mariners after jumping out to a 2-0 lead. This year’s Blue Bishops team isn’t quite as explosive and is a little younger overall, but there is enough left over to at least carry some confidence into Thursday. It is also worth noting that while Asbury Park did not fare well outside of its division, the Blue Bishops did take on Long Branch once and Shore twice, games that should give them an idea of what it is going to take to pull off this upset.
Outlook: This tournament is set up to be unpredictable in this particular season, and an Asbury Park win would be the most unlikely outcome of the first round. The Blue Bishops could conceivably get it done, but the following round would likely mean facing Red Bank and two rounds later would likely be the CBA-Freehold Township winner. That is about as tough as it gets.

29. Point Beach

Seed: 28
First-Round Opponent: At No. 5 Shore
Reason to Believe: Point Beach will face a familiar opponent in its first round game and it is one to whom the Garnet Gulls have given problems. Shore beat Point Beach twice this season, but the Blue Devils got all they could handle each time. Point Beach also beat Shore at the end of last season, and although both teams are in much different places this season, the Garnet Gulls have taken a certain amount of confidence into those match-ups. Should Point Beach pull off an upset, there is at least a possibility that No. 21 Lacey could get through to the next round, which would make for a very unlikely team to pass through into the quarterfinals.
Outlook: Point Beach got Shore’s attention when the Garnet Gulls battled the Blue Devils to the end in a 1-0 loss and still hung tough with Shore in the second meeting, a 3-1 win by the Blue Devils. A recent scoreless draw against Ranney suggest that, perhaps, the Gulls are not firing on all cylinders at the moment and the timing for an upset may not be right. Point Beach will probably have to shut Shore – or anybody else – out to win because goals have not come easily lately.

28. Donovan Catholic

Seed: 27
First-Round Opponent: At No. 6 CBA
Reason to Believe: The Griffins’ 2013 season came to an end on their home field against CBA, so Thursday is a chance for a younger version, now known as Donovan Catholic, to exact some revenge by beating the Colts on their home field. Donovan Catholic has played 12 games decided by one goal and is 6-6 in those games. Those six losses account for all of the Griffins’ defeats this year, so even if the results have not been to their liking, the Griffins have had no problem staying close yet. CBA has been hot and cold when it comes to finishing, so Donovan Catholic might have a chance to steal one in the first round.
Outlook: The long-term prospects are difficult with Freehold Township potentially waiting in the next round and some team like Toms River North or Red Bank in the quarterfinals, so a long stay for the Griffins is an unlikely scenario.

27. Pinelands

Seed: 26
First-Round Opponent: At No. 7 Jackson Memorial
Reason to Believe: For a roster that was fairly young and unproven to open the season, Pinelands has come along nicely over the course of the season. Most of the Wildcats scoring is coming from players who will be back next season, so there is still a lot of room for improvement – not just next year but heading into the postseason. Jackson Memorial also has a fair amount of youth, and the Jaguars are playing as well as any team right now, having gone 7-0-1 in their last eight. Pinelands has a rough first-round draw, but should the Wildcats get by the red-hot Jaguars, another relatively inexperienced team will be waiting, whether it is Matawan or Manasquan.
Outlook: This draw is not the best possible one for the Wildcats, but it does make the Wildcats a potential surprise quarterfinalist. A potential match-up with Manalapan or even Holmdel is why Pinelands’ staying power isn’t as strong as that of some other teams.

Jackson Liberty has a tough road, but scorers like Adam Haidi (10) and Brandon Pirog (9) make the Lions dangerous. (Matt Manley)

26. Jackson Liberty

Seed: 29
First-Round Opponent: At No. 4 Wall
Reason to Believe: Like Donovan Catholic, the Lions have lost six games decided by one goal, but unlike the Griffins, the luck has not quite balanced out. Jackson Liberty is 4-6 in those one-goal margin games and has shown an ability to rack up the goals, whether in a close game or a blowout. There was a point during the early part of the season in which Wall looked vulnerable in the back, but that has not been the case lately. Jackson Liberty will have to play its best game, but with three dangerous scorers – Adam Haidi, Brandon Pirog and Bryan Garry – the Lions have the firepower to surprise some teams. The draw is not particularly good, but Jackson Liberty has a chance to make some noise based solely on its own merit.
Outlook: A first-round upset is a longshot, but if it ever happened, Jackson Liberty would become a threat to make a pretty deep run. Middletown North has struggled lately, Long Branch has had trouble in close games as well, and Shore still has the specter of a soft schedule hanging over its head. Jackson Liberty’s stay likely ends on Thursday, but unlike the teams listed above, a win could very well turn into something much more.

25. St. Rose

Seed: 24
First-Round Opponent: At No. 9 Point Boro
Reason to Believe: St. Rose can’t score like Jackson Liberty can, but the Purple Roses have a more manageable task ahead of them, albeit a difficult one overall. First-round opponent Point Boro enters the tournament on a 13-game winning streak and has thrived in games decided by one-goal (7-0). On the positive side for St. Rose, that one-goal luck probably won’t last forever and Point Boro has not shown much outside of the B South division. Beyond Point Boro, Brick Memorial or St. John Vianney would be difficult, but No. 1 Toms River South will have its hands full with Ocean or Freehold, so this part of the bracket has the potential to fall in place for the winner of the St. Rose-Point Boro tilt.
Outlook: Coming off a scoreless tie against Shore, St. Rose should feel pretty good about taking on anybody at this point. A first-round upset at Point Boro coupled with a St. John Vianney win would set up a meeting with an up-and-down Lancers team that could make this part of the bracket anybody’s game. In the end, the Purple Roses will have to show a little more scoring punch against quality competition to get the job done.

24. Colts Neck

Seed: 22
First-Round Opponent: At No. 11 Freehold Twp.
Reason to Believe: Although Colts Neck has not done well by virtue of wins and losses lately, its first-round opponent has also fallen on relatively hard times. Freehold Township has encountered some scoring woes lately that Colts Neck will try to play to its benefit. During its current three-game losing streak, Colts Neck has struggled to keep the ball out of its net, so either the Cougars are running into the right team, or perhaps they will be the cure for Freehold Township’s ills. This Colts Neck group has some experience against A North competition from last year and has been through a tough B North schedule this year, so Freehold Township and CBA in back-to-back games may not be as bad for the Cougars as it would be for other teams.
Outlook: Colts Neck is bit of an unknown going into the tournament because of a mixed bag of results, and the recent results suggest the Cougars are more likely to bust than to boom. Freehold Township is a tough way to start a potential run and CBA would be an equally tough way to continue it, but Colts Neck has the pedigree to make the most of the opportunity if only the Cougars could get things turned around in time.

23. Manasquan

Seed: 23
First-Round Opponent: At No. 10 Matawan
Reason to Believe: Most teams don’t want to see a division opponent in the first round of any tournament, and perhaps the Warriors would prefer to sneak up on some other team in the first round rather than have to go through another battle against Matawan. Unlike with some other first-round match-ups, there is not really any guesswork when comparing the two opponents: Manasquan has proven it can beat Matawan and the first two meetings suggest Thursday’s rubber match will be another close game. Manasquan did not have much to play for when the two teams met on Friday, so the Warriors could even have a bit of an edge going into Thursday. Beyond Matawan would likely be a surging Jackson Memorial team on the road and then, likely defending champion Manalapan. Manasquan hasn’t let too many games get out of hand, so the Warriors should be up for a challenge however long they stick around.
Outlook: This is the part of the list when the teams with substantial chances to win first-round games start showing up. Manasquan has already proven it can beat Matawan, and a team good enough to beat Matawan is probably good enough to hang with Jackson Memorial for 80-plus minutes, assuming the Jaguars are the team that awaits the winner of the A Central showdown. The Warriors don’t seem ready to take down a top seed like Manalapan, but there is some sleeper potential there, enough to potentially get the Warriors to a date with the defending champs.

22. Lacey

Seed: 21
First-Round Opponent: At No. 12 Central
Reason to Believe: Like Colts Neck, Lacey crawled to the regular-season finish line with three straight losses heading into the tournament. Since winning consecutive games against Toms River South and Colts Neck, Lacey has gone 2-6 with the two wins coming against Southern and Brick – the bottom two teams in the Class A South standings. So where is the hope? The hope lies in the other side of the field. Central will be without leading scorer Blake Czajkowski (red card) for one more game and even with Czajkowski, you can bet Lacey would get themselves pumped for a renewal of this rivalry. If the Lions can shut down the Golden Eagles, the Lions would go to Shore with an outside chance at pulling off an upset, and with the experience in a very difficult Class A South this year, Lacey knows all about handling back-to-back tough games.
Outlook: Central is ripe for the picking in round one, but the Golden Eagles probably also like their draw based on the way Lacey is playing right now. One of those teams is going to get a major boost from winning the game and if that team is Lacey, the Lions will take a renewed confidence into the next round, presumably against Shore.

Alessio Rea (7) and Toms River East beat Dylan Fiedler (22) and Lacey twice this year, but the Raiders have arguably the hardest road to the SCT semifinals of any team in the field. (Photo by Matt Manley)

21. Toms River East

Seed: 18
First-Round Opponent: At No. 15 Holmdel
Reason to Believe: Up until a 4-1 drubbing at the hands (or perhaps feet) of Brick Memorial, the Raiders were hanging with every team in front of them. Perhaps a couple of games against Brick and Manchester softened the Raiders up a little bit, and if that’s the case, they got their wake-up call prior to the tournament. Although Toms River East just missed out on a home game, it drew one of the toughest first-round assignments of any team. While there are some good teams seeded ahead of Holmdel, the Raiders would probably rather play most of those teams rather than the Hornets, and if that’s not enough, their reward for beating Holmdel would be a trip to Manalapan. Toms River East has quite the challenge ahead, but some recent A South battles should have them ready for the grind.
Outlook: Toms River East was playing like a legitimate sleeper heading into the tournament and the Raiders are still good enough to beat another good team on any given day. Beating Holmdel is not far-fetched, but a team that plays almost exclusively on turf going to play Manalapan on the Braves’ grass field is in for a bit of a shock. This is the case of the right team getting the wrong draw.

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