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WPIAL Notebook: No Highmark Stadium for this year’s finals; playoff guidelines laid out

WPIAL Notebook: No Highmark Stadium for this year’s finals; playoff guidelines laid out

On Wednesday night, during a postgame zoom interview with Deer Lakes boys soccer coach, Dan Yates, the stark reality of dealing with the current pandemic came up yet again, even as Yates was relishing a key victory against a section rival and preparing his boys for the next steps in the most unique high school soccer season in our lifetime.

“If I could take our boys, and put them in a bubble, like the NBA did, and just have them in there, I would.” Yates said. “For the seven seniors this year, it’s a massive thing. It’s the last time they’ll play high school soccer. With COVID(-19) being around, you just never know what’s around the corner.  I reiterated that fact tonight, because if we get a case, and it’s playoff time, they’re not going to reschedule the playoffs. They’re going to have to forfeit the game. That would be absolutely heartbreaking.”

As we’ve plowed forward with a mostly successful six-week dash of a high school soccer regular season here in Western Pennsylvania, as only a few high school soccer teams have been forced to the sidelines due to positive COVID-19 tests.  There are also other reports circulating that some other soccer teams are dealing with potential COVID-19 concerns as we head into the final, abbreviated week of the season.

Lets hope that nobody’s postseason gets cut short because of positive COVID-19 tests, but that’s a harsh reality that some coaches and players are facing.

Bottom line — as an echoing theme we’ve heard time and time again — hopefully everyone will do their part to stay safe and healthy.

UPDATE ON PLAYOFFS

Last week, the WPIAL’s Board of Directors came out of its latest meeting with numerous guidelines established for all Fall sports playoffs, including boys and girls soccer.

Here’s what we know.

The WPIAL confirmed they are moving forward with having the top four teams in each section of each classification qualify for the playoffs.

Regarding teams in quarantine or having had regular season games postponed, the board determined that playoff spots could be decided by WPIAL committees for each sport if canceled games affect playoff positions. More on that when it comes to selecting the top four below.

Another big thing that came out of the WPIAL meeting is that the higher seeded team for a postseason game will play at home all the way through the semifinals. Only the WPIAL championship game will be played at neutral sites.

And speaking of neutral sites, it was also confirmed that Highmark Stadium would not be used this year for the Finals.

WPIAL Executive Director Amy Scheuneman alluded to safety and cautionary approach when addressing playing most of the playoffs at higher seeded team fields.

“You’re only bringing in one group to a new school as opposed to two (at a neutral site),” Scheuneman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Here are additional guidelines established for the WPIAL boys and girls soccer playoffs:

  • Any team that can’t play a postseason game because of COVID-19 will forfeit the game and the remaining team will move on in the tournament.
  • The final for each classification will be played at high school venues. There is a possibility one site could play host to two games, with the same stadium cleared after the first game. While nothing’s been officially confirmed, it’s very likely that we could be looking at four venues hosting eight finals on Saturday, November 7.
  • The WPIAL will allow fans to attend all playoff games, following new gathering limits established last week by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
    • Schools must have a maximum occupancy limit at least 800 to host a soccer game.

“We know the schools have the best knowledge of their own facilities and hosting a team,” Scheuneman said. “They’ve been doing it all season.”

    • Host schools will decide how many fans are admitted. However, the WPIAL wants equal numbers of tickets made available to home and away teams.
    • The WPIAL minimum for soccer capacity is 200. If this minimum can’t be met, the school will have to find another facility or the WPIAL will choose an alternate site.
  • For all playoff games, the WPIAL has mandated that the host school must provide the same amount of tickets to each school.
  • Higher-seeded teams get a home game through the semifinals in all sports, and a team keeps the same seed throughout the postseason. So if a number 7 seed beats a No. 2 seed, the No. 7 seed does not assume the No. 2 seed for the next playoff game.
  • In boys and girls soccer, all games must be played on an artificial turf field. If a team is scheduled to have a home game, but does not have a turf field, the game will be moved to a turf field.

WPIAL Soccer Selection Committee is still scheduled to meet this Wednesday, October 21, to finalize the playoff brackets for all four classifications.

Here are the projected playoff schedules:

WPIAL

  • Opening round matches (Saturday, October 24 & Monday, October 26)
  • 2nd Round (Wednesday, October 28; Thursday, October 29)
  • Semifinals (Saturday October 31 & Monday, November 2)
  • Finals (Thursday – Saturday, November 5-7 — TBD)

PIAA (UPDATE: top teams in each WPIAL classification will advance)

  • Quarterfinal round (Tuesday, November 10)
  • Semifinals (Saturday, November 14)
  • Finals (Friday & Saturday, November 20-21 in Hershey, PA)

We’ll be providing updates on Wednesday with these details and posting the brackets as they become available.

TAKEAWAYS

Not having the Finals at Highmark Stadium is definitely a blow for high school soccer, but things could be much worse.

This will be the first time since 2013, that the WPIAL soccer finals will be played somewhere other than Highmark Stadium — which we’ve clearly seen through the years adds to the excitement and provides a first-rate soccer-specific venue for our region’s high school soccer championships.

As frustrating as this is for soccer players, coaches, family members and fans — it makes sense.

Among the reasons, they’ve cited it will minimize travel (not so sure about that one) but maybe more importantly, reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19. More importantly, liability is a key factor in this decision. Facilities such as Heinz Field (for football) or Highmark Stadium may not want to assume the risk of having the games being held at their facilities during the pandemic, whereas the PIAA and the schools are already assuming the risks associated with hosting high school games at their own facilities — and have been strongly advised to do so.

Diving deeper into the playoff seedings and the process of determining the top four teams (or those tied) provides, while the WPIAL soccer selection committee has its hands full more than any other year in memory, they’ve also built in enough flexibility to make things right for all the teams that should have a chance to qualify for postseason play.

Again, to reiterate, it will be the top four and all ties that cannot be broken. When the top four teams in a section are not clearly defined by the pre-established method of determination (Section Record, Head-to-Head) the committee will establish qualifiers based on criteria including by not limited to: Section Record, Head-to-Head competition, record between common opponents, matches played and strength of schedule.

North Allegheny girls, the defending Class 4A champions, who have not played since October 7, are one of the few teams where the committee has to take into account that they’ll only play seven of 10 scheduled section games. With a 6-1 record, they already have enough wins to earn a playoff berth into the Class 4A Girls playoff tournament, so in their case, it will be interesting to see how they’re seeded in the playoffs.

Heading into this week’s final few days of play, we have the latest standings posted.

WPIAL Boys Soccer Standings (2020)

WPIAL Girls Soccer Standings (2020)

Scanning up and down through the standings, most sections will have some clear-cut top four teams. There are a few exceptions and close races for the fourth and final spot. Games being played on Monday and Tuesday will determine the final spots.

All games must be played by Tuesday.

MORE FROM BOYS COACHES SURVEY

At the start of the season, we surveyed numerous WPIAL boys coaches. We previously shared results from two questions in our previous edition of the WPIAL Notebook with responses on favorite places to play and biggest challenges (at that point) in dealing with COVID-19.

Now, we have more feedback:

If you were PIAA Soccer commissioner (if there was one) or have a seat on the rules committee, what rule(s) would you change? 

  • The first rule I would change, without hesitation, would be moving away from the three whistle system for officials. It’s time to move on and adopt the flag system. It’s challenging to keep the flow of the game when each official calls the game so differently in the center.
  • A definitive offside rule that doesn’t change every season. Make official part of the field of play again.
  • 5-min yellow card caution and moving to FIFA 3 man officiating system
  • I would go to the traditional referee system, one whistle and 2 AR’s
  • I would push to implement the 3 man system, 1 whistle, 2 flags
  • Playoff Seedings would be decided by coaches
  • Make the high school game follow FIFA rules
  • Center referee switching every 27 minutes
  • Move to flag system for refs
  • 3-man system of officiating

What are the biggest challenges relating to PIAA/WPIAL soccer officials?

  • We need more youth in the officials. Nothing against the veterans! Younger officials will help purely based on keeping up with pace of play. They can put themselves in better situations to make calls when running up and down the field. The officials take a lot of guff from coaches, players, and fans. It’s a hard job, but they have to be able to be in the best spot to make the best call.
  • Not enough soccer referees, too many refs that don’t know the game very well, lack of consistency
  • Inconsistency due to changes of center ref and refs not knowing game of soccer well enough
  • 3 or 2 whistle system, age, not knowing basic soccer
  • Having three people with a whistle on the field
  • Rotating referee system and inexperience
  • Inconsistency of officiating
  • Interpretation of rule.
  • Inconsistency
  • inconsistency

No surprises here with responses from the first two questions! If you recall, heading into the 2019 season, the PIAA rejected a pilot proposal by the WPIAL to go with a trial one-whistle system. The momentum toward doing this continues, but in 2020 with the PIAA squarely focused on dealing with COVID-19, it appears that this discussion has been pushed aside.

Column: PIAA’s rejection of pilot proposal deters momentum for one-whistle system

Which opposing coaches do you admire the most? 

Coaches with multiple responses included Troy Mohney (Butler), Jon Cantwell (South Park), Larry Fingers (Canon-McMillan) and Rob Eldridge (South Fayette)
Here are some of the other coaches who received votes — though you might recognize a few who are retired or now coaching girls teams.  I am sure if we had full participation from all coaches, we would have received a lot more responses.
  • Nick Showman – Carlynton
  • Adam Obranovich – Baldwin (2013-2016)
  • Andrew Kariotis – always has a positive look on the game and tries to play soccer
  • George Williams
  • Bill Pfeifer
  • Gene Klein
  • Ryan Kelly
  • Pat Vereb
  • Garrett MacKenzie
  • Jerrod Rebich
  • Erik Ingram
  • Jordan Wiegand

PITTSBURGH SOCCER NOW FEATURED GAME SERIES 

Very special thanks to all those who’ve supported our Feature Game Series.  We’ve have featured game coverage at least once per week — and in the past few weeks — doubled up with multiple games each week.

And we’re not done just yet.

On Tuesday, Matt Gajtka and Ed Thompson will be heading to Trinity for a Girls 3A showdown as Belle Vernon and Trinity meet up. Both schools are in contention at the top of Section 2, which is led by unbeaten Connellsville (10-0), with Belle Vernon (9-2), Trinity (7-3) and Ringgold (7-4) close behind.

Also, look for more coverage coming Wednesday as we will bring you the playoff brackets and begin previewing this year’s playoffs.

SEEKING PARTNERS & SUPPORT OF PLAYOFF COVERAGE 

It’s our goal to have reporters, photographers at playoff games covering the action throughout the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs.

If you are interested in partnering with us, we can provide first-rate, affordable sponsorship opportunities for your business or organization, please contact us by email or DM us on Twitter / Facebook.

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

Pittsburgh Division I College Soccer Schedule (Spring 2021)

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