NORTH CANTON In boxing, it’s known as a split decision. In a courtroom, it’s called a hung jury.
In Federal League boys soccer, it’s what happens when two of the league’s most intense rivals play to a scoreless draw with the league title hanging in the balance.
Hoover and Jackson entered their showdown in the final week of the regular season with matching 4-0-1 league records and as the top two seeds in the upcoming district tournament and after going the distance and trading their best punches, the two sides left the pitch with a 0-0 tie that resulted in them splitting the league title.
"Other than the fact there will be co-champions for league title, from my standpoint the two teams played a great game on each side," Hoover head coach Neil Baasten said. "We would dominate for a while, they would dominate for a while and both sides played extremely well on defense."
Both sides entered the game seeking both a win to capture the championship outright and the accompanying momentum heading into the Austintown Division I district tournament. Hoover, which ended its regular season at 10-1-3, is the top seed in the tournament and Jackson is the second seed, so establishing the upper hand in their regular-season matchup was a big incentive for the two teams.
Still, Baasten and his players exited the field feeling that the scoreboard was representative of where the squads stood.
"In the end, it ended up being a just result … not the one either side wanted, but it was also the way the game unfolded, so any tie seemed to be fitting," Baasten said.
The positive news for the two teams - and for local soccer fans as well - is that due to the seeding in the district, if the two teams can win their first few matches, they’ll face off in a district final that would have plenty of anticipation and serve as a de facto league championship game. Of course, there would be the added bonus of moving on to the regional tournament, so that potential matchup is one each team covets.
"We set some goals coming into this season and one was winning the Federal League," Baasten said. "We’re the one seed and Jackson is the two seed, so if the seeds hold up we would meet them again and of course, there cannot be a tie that time."
Baasten pointed to the Vikings starting the season with what he deemed "the correct attitude" as a reason for their success and said the squad’s senior leadership has been vital in keeping that mindset. Captains James Huff and Andrew Bodenschotz have been keys to keeping the squad locked in and each plays in a different area of the field, meaning Hoover has a solid senior in needed places.
"James Huff is playing forward even though he is a natural midfielder … he’s our leading scorer and we’re obviously looking to him to put some in the back of the net. Andrew is a defensive midfielder and plays in from of the back four, so he tries to minimize opponents’ direct attacks," Baasten said.
He also noted that senior defender Andrew Roseberry is another key to Hoover’s potential postseason success, as he typically marks the opponent’s best player. All three are seniors with plenty of experience and were big in Hoover winning the Adidas Cup tournament in Strongsville in August, an event the Vikings played in for the first time.
The season has been marked with consistency for the orange and black, as their first tie and lone loss came close together and were followed by a five-game winning streak.
The Jackson tie may have been a small speed bump in that momentum, but both sides played well in the contest and neither left the field feeling that they had held anything back. Whether they meet again in the postseason or not, it’s clear they were the top teams in the Federal League this season and while the verdict that they were simply too close to separate in the league championship race may not be fully satisfying to either, sometimes there isn’t just one top dog.
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