Franklin Regional boys soccer eyes WPIAL 3-peat

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Wednesday, October 21, 2020 | 4:55 PM


Franklin Regional arranged some objectives early in the boys soccer season, like it was laying out a new outfit for the first day of in-person school.

No matter what the Panthers wear, they still look good. But winning the section was first on the list.

Bringing home a third WPIAL title in a row was there, too, a little farther down. Only it wasn’t talked about as much.

“They’ve been gearing up for this,” coach Rand Hudson said of his players. “It’s kind of been unspoken all year. We shared the section, but now we can’t worry about our seed (in the playoffs). We have to play all the best teams anyways.”

When a program wins as much as the Panthers, some things are just assumed.

The Panthers (13-2), who have outscored opponents, 108-7, will open the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs as the two-time defending champions. They are the No. 2 seed and will open at home against No. 15 Knoch at noon Saturday.

The Panthers have scored seven or more goals 10 times and tallied more than 10 scores on three occasions.

“It’s been more business as usual,” Hudson said.

The Panthers’ only section loss was 2-1 against Plum, the team with whom they shared the Section 4 title. Following that loss, Franklin Regional won its final six section games, allowing one goal along the way.

Class 4A No. 2 Seneca Valley blanked the Panthers in the regular-season finale, 2-0. It was the first time they had been shut out in the regular season since 2017.

Franklin Regional had two losses combined over the last two seasons.

“It’s a strong field of teams who have clinched a playoff spot this year,” star junior forward Anthony DiFalco said. “We are just going to have to take it a game at time. We are going to have to be really focused this year if we want to make a run again.”

Production has been equal parts possession-style soccer, tight back-line play, more balanced scoring than one might expect and some minor tweaks.

DiFalco, who gave up kicking for the football team this season to focus on soccer, has 30 goals and 20 assists.

He has 78 career goals, which is believed to be the most in program history.

But senior teammates Blake Cooper (20 goals, 11 assists) and Zach Lorenz (13 goals, 17 assists) also have double-digit goals and assists.

Senior goalkeeper Gianni Diacopoulos has 10 shutouts.

Hudson has afforded DiFalco the freedom to move around when marked to loosen the traffic and create more opportunities.

“I know we’re on film now,” Hudson said. “Teams know what we have. Anthony knows he can swap with someone, anyone he wants, if needed. The kids have been really good about that. Other guys can switch up, too. They can go two layers farther, as long as someone covers for them.”

Luke Kimmich also has moved around some. The senior defender has had more offensive touches come his way, giving the Panthers yet another scoring threat.

“He has more freedom to move forward,” Hudson said. “It’s good to have options, especially when you get into the playoffs.”

The Panthers don’t plan to look past anyone in the bracket. Not even if a rematch with Plum, or a clash with regular playoff foe West Allegheny is just around the corner.

“I told our guys it’s almost to the point where it’s going to be another season,” Hudson said. “If we can win a couple games a week for four weeks, we can do it. Here we go.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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