A mixed bag of weather is in the forecast entering Tuesday’s boys soccer playoffs and there’s a rainbow-sized spectrum of team goals in all 14 Vermont counties.
Two schools are gunning for undefeated seasons as tournament action kicks off, while many of the less successful programs are determined to pull off one big upset. Some squads are attempting to defend their crowns or extend their winning streaks. A lot of other teams are focused on ending droughts, enacting revenge or simply keeping things close enough to force a penalty-kick shootout.
Essex is the clear team to beat in Division I after playing one of the toughest schedules in the state. Milton has been relatively untested in D-II and could face reigning champ Montpelier in a title rematch. Green Mountain (12-1-1) is riding a 13-game unbeaten streak in D-III, while MSJ has been mostly untouchable in D-IV.
A clean slate awaits over 1,000 players after brackets were released Monday, so the past is the past and no one can rest on any prior accomplishments this time of the year. Here is a quick glance at some of the storylines in each division:
The favorite: No. 1 Essex. The Hornets (12-0-2) outscored opponents 30-7 and posted eight shutouts. Essex is seeking its first title in 11 years.
Dark horse: No. 9 St. Johnsbury. The Hilltoppers tied Essex and Burlington before ending the regular season with a victory over Mount Mansfield.
Best first-round matchup: No. 11 Mount Mansfield at No. 6 Burr & Burton. The Cougars’ 4-3 victory over CVU speaks for itself. The Bulldogs tied St. Johnsbury and own seven clean sheets.
Longest trip: No. 10 Brattleboro at No. 7 North Country (160 Miles).
Fun fact: A Metro Division school has captured the D-I title for 18 of the past 19 straight years.
DIVISION IIThe favorite: No. 1 Milton. The Yellowjackets (14-0) scored 78 goals and conceded eight, following up a 2020 campaign where they outscored opponents 52-6. Milton proved its strength with four victories against D-I schools.
Dark horse: No. 5 Middlebury. The Tigers kept things close during a pair of two-goal losses to Milton. Middlebury made its only finals appearance in 2019 and lost to Stowe, 2-0.
Best first-round matchup: No. 9 Woodstock at No. 8 Paine Mountain. The Wasps tied Green Mountain two weeks ago and also showcased their potential in a 5-0 win over Hartford. Paine Mountain tied North Country and owns quality victories over Hazen and U-32.
Longest trip: No. 10 Stratton at No. 7 GMVS (100 Miles).
Fun fact: Fourth-seeded Stowe won eight straight crowns before falling to Lake Region in the first round last year.
The favorite: No. 1 Green Mountain. The Chieftains had never reached a final before winning it all in 2019, thanks in part to fresh talent from recently closed Black River. Green Mountain finished 13-3 last year after falling to Peoples, 1-0, in the final.
Dark horse: No. 5 Peoples. The defending champs tied Stowe and suffered 1-0 losses to Montpelier and Harwood. Peoples will attempt to reach the semifinals for the fifth consecutive season.
Best first-round matchup: No. 9 Thetford at No. 8 Randolph. The Panthers secured a 1-0 victory over the Galloping Ghosts two weeks ago. Randolph beat Paine Mountain and is searching for its first playoff victory since 2009.
Longest trip: No. 11 Leland & Gray at No. 6 Hazen (132 Miles).
Fun fact: Second-seeded Winooski is seeking its first title, while No. 3 Enosburg claimed its only championship in 2006.
The favorite: No. 1 MSJ. Tyler Corey (30 goals) and Ryan Jones (24 goals) lead the MSJ offense after the Mill River didn’t to generate enough athletes to field a full team. Goalie Peter Carlson’s big punts are a huge offensive weapon.
Dark horse: No. 6 White River Valley. The Wildcats reached the semifinals last year as the No. 13 seed. This season White River beat Twin Valley and tied Proctor and Rivendell.
Best first-round matchup: No. 10 Arlington at No. 7 Blue Mountain. The Bucks earned a 2-1 victory over Richford and scored eight second-half goals while rallying to a 9-2 victory over Craftsbury. Arlington has only been shut out three times — twice by D-I opponents. The Eagles kept Sharon honest during a 5-3 loss three weeks ago.
Longest trip: No. 12 Danville at No. 5 Twin Valley (150 Miles)
Fun fact: Second-seeded Rivendell has recorded one losing season since 2007.