Lexington's coaches think Paul Laurence Dunbar is the boys' soccer team to beat this season, but Coach Todd Bretz isn't convinced his team has earned that nod.
"We will probably struggle in the beginning of the season but hopefully figure out enough to be competitive by the end of the season," said Bretz, who could become the state's winningest boys' coach this season. Entering the season last week, he needed 13 victories to eclipse the 433 John Horton accumulated at Covington Catholic.
Dunbar graduated its entire defensive group but gets back about two-thirds of its scoring from last season.
The Bulldogs, who went 19-5-3 and won the 11th Region last season, return senior Ricky Clemente — an all-state player a season ago — as well as Connor Roberts, Justin Kelly and Amir Simons-Miller.
Battling for city bragging rights with Dunbar will be Henry Clay, which lost two senior goalkeepers and Thomas Ueland, an offensive force who's now a freshman at Notre Dame.
"We have plenty of good pieces, but it will be a struggle to get all of them working together," Henry Clay Coach Timothy Bernardi said.
Among those pieces are senior midfielder Collin Rose and senior defender Aime Mabika, both committed to the University of Kentucky. Others who will play a big role for the Blue Devils are Logan Cox (senior defender), Chris Hunt (senior defender) and Braxton Burton (senior forward).
"We have limited varsity experience across the board outside of that core group," Bernardi said.
Tates Creek Coach Albert Gross expects the Commodores to be right in the thick of things this season as they return a good group of players whom he expects to "take a big step forward in their development." Gross expects the team's defense and midfield to be strengths in 2015, while scoring might be a bit harder to come by.
"We lost a lot of our goal production from last year," Gross said, "so we will need to focus on being creative in our attacking third and taking advantage of our opportunities."
Cubaka Mutayongwa (midfielder) and Amadi Mubelela (forward), all-city players a year ago, head a senior-dominant group. Nolan Adams (defender), Malunda Mbaya (defender), Sebastian Mbaya (midfielder), and Cameron Bastian (midfielder) will all be factors for the Commodores.
Elsewhere in the city
Lexington Catholic, Lafayette and Lexington Christian hope to hang enough "L's" on the expected top squads to claim the city crown for their own.
LexCath is young, coach Jonathan Kincheloe said, and he anticipates an up-and-down year.
"Some older players have little to no playing experience at the varsity level so time will tell if they are ready for the challenge," Kincheloe said.
Lafayette's Chris Grimm said the jury is out on how good his team can be, but he expects to be in the thick of things.
He thinks the Generals are "technically proficient" and will be able to outgain many teams when it comes to possession time; it'll be up to top returnees Jimmy Kaindu, Trey Paskovics, Angel Vasquez, Holden Treadway and Nick SirLouis to turn those possessions into goals.
Senior midfielder Neil Lumm will guide an LCA team full of youth. Phillip Scott, Alex Hodge and Andrew Madden are newcomers that Coach Daniel Harvey expects to help the Eagles make up for an exodus of defensive starters.
Sayre returns all but two of its starters from a year ago, with Will Newton (jr. forward), Logan Pelfrey (jr. midfielder), Robert Dean (sr. defender) and Willy Martin (sr. forward) tops in the group. Coach Joe Porter said the Spartans are "hungry, driven and eager to work."
Manes Preptit, head coach at Bryan Station, said the Defenders are much deeper than in the past but team conditioning is a work in progress. That may lead to some struggles against tough city opponents, but "we will fight to the last minute and not be intimidated," Preptit said.
Station's top returning players are seniors Jarod Teater, Mikka Cameron and Thomas Little, and junior Daonhan Tran.