BURLINGTON, Iowa — If there was a national championship for high school soccer, chances are it would look a lot like what is taking place this weekend at the Go 4 The Goal Fall Classic at the Burlington Rec Plex.
Six of the current TopDrawerSoccer FAB 50 Top 16 teams — with a combined 55-2-1 record this year — are lumped together in an eight-team, three-day showcase event known as the Goal 4 the Goal Fall Classic Adidas Bracket. The winner could have a No. 1 ranking in its future.
The field includes No. 2 Naperville North (Ill.), No. 3 Salesianum (Del.), No. 6 Blue Valley Southwest (Kan.), No. 13 Peoria Notre Dame (Ill.), No. 14 Milwaukee Marquette (Wis.) and No. 16 Morton (Ill.). Rounding out the eight teams in the bracket are Rockhurst Jesuit (Mo.), which is often in and out of the FAB 50, and Cherry Creek (Colo.). The only two losses sustained by the top six-ranked teams are to other ranked teams at the event: Morton fell to Naperville North, and Marquette lost to Peoria Notre Dame.
"We've always had a great group of teams that want to come, but this year everything seemed to work out," event director Eric Stratman said. "Blue Valley Southwest reached out to me. Salesianum always travels somewhere and this year they decided to come here."
The inclusion of Salesianum helps connect the dots from East Coast to Colorado. This weekend's results will play a major part in assessing the elite programs for the rest of the season, givenwho these teams have and/or will have played by season's end.
Thursday's first round pairs Rockhurst against Peoria Notre Dame; Naperville North vs. Cherry Creek; Marquette vs. Salesianum; and Blue Valley Southwest vs. Morton.
The Go 4 the Goal Fall Classic is the rebranded version of the Gateway City Classic, which was contested at various venues in the Greater St. Louis area. Go 4 the Goal is played in Iowa at one venue.
"Getting to Burlington, Iowa, is a challenge but once you get here it is amazing," Stratman said. "When we left St. Louis, we lost all of those St. Louis teams. But, instead, we've picked up a number of the Chicago teams and now the tournament is as strong as ever. ... This is probably the strongest tournament field ever."
It's hard to argue against that statement.
Here's a look at the contenders:
No. 2 Naperville North: The Huskies already have played 13 matches -- all resulting in wins. Cole Iverson and Ty Konrad have been the driving forces offensively. Tommy Welch is a record-setting goalkeeper who has been an imposing force in net at 6-foot-7.
No. 3 Salesianum: The team's ranking is a bit high relative to its results this season, but the Sallies have a loaded schedule and the truth will play out in the next two weeks. After competing in this tournament, Salesianum takes on top-ranked St. Benedict's Prep (N.J.) next week. Salesianum is winning games and should roll through Delaware, as usual, but the team is relying more on defense this season.
No. 6 Blue Valley Southwest: With Division I commits Aidan Bates and Nathan Pendleton, BV Southwest has put together a bit of a Kansas dynasty in recent years. This weekend will be a chance to test that nationally.
No. 13 Peoria Notre Dame: Noah Madrigal is the featured player in a team that is building quite a resume. PND already has a win over Marquette (Wis.) and more comfortably defeated Naperville Central, which Naperville North barely edged earlier this week. The Irish could be poised for a major jump in the rankings with a strong showing. But at the same time, the level of play that this event could find this team in the loser's bracket after Thursday. The field is simply that strong.
No. 14 Marquette: This Wisconsin dynasty recently won the Jesuit Classic in D.C., and a strong showing this week would put it back in the Top 10 -- a familiar spot for the Hilltoppers.
No. 16 Morton: Morton is coming of a PepsiCo Showdown title and could pull off a big-event sweep if it can win in Burlington this week. Morton is relying on a strong junior class to set up and score goals.
Rockhurst Jesuit: Always the most dangerous team in any tournament. Regardless of the record (8-3), Rockhurst has the ability to string together three wins and snag a title at this event.
Cherry Creek: This former Colorado power has undergone a coaching change and the team is struggling to get results. That said, they play an important role in this event as their results in Burlington will be gauged against their results against nationally and regiuonally ranked teams in Colorado.
Not To Be Forgotten
Regionally ranked Bishop Miege (Kan.) and up-and-coming program Gateway Legacy Christian (Ill.) are both coming in for two matches in top bracket. They will play each other then take on a semifinal loser in the second day.
Overall, 40 schools will be participating at the tournament this weekend.