Messenger file photo by C his McCarthy
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
As far as high school boys’ soccer is concerned, Southside is currently the cream of the crop.
The Panthers (9-3-1) are ranked No. 1 in Class 5A in the latest state rankings put together by the Alabama High School Soccer Coaches Association.
The team last held the top position in March of 2020, after which the remainder of the season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now we’ve just got to live up to it,” said head coach Randy Vice. “We’ve got to finish the drill on this one, for sure. I think we’re really well-rounded. We haven’t given up a lot of goals, which we need to keep up.”
Among the Panthers’ notable victories this season were 2-0 over Class 7A No. 10 Florence, 3-1 over Class 5A No. 4 Boaz and 5-0 over Class 4A No. 3 Westbrook Christian. Southside tied Class 6A No. 1 Fort Payne 2-2 in regulation before eventually coming up short in penalty kicks.
Vice noted that this year’s team chemistry stands out.
“These guys work well with each other and they play hard. The core of this group has played consistently well against bigger teams like Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook, so they’re used to tough competition. We’ve just played 14 games in 18 days, which I think helped us because we’ve played about five more games than anyone else.”
Vice noted that the majority of last seasons’ player are on this year’s team, bolstering the Panthers’ depth. He pointed to seniors Parker Cunningham (pictured above at left), Ariq Chandra and Brandon Ayala and sophomore Camren Thompson as key components of the 2023 Panthers. Southside went 12-5-2 last year while winning a fourth straight area championship and making it to the second round of the state playoffs.
“We have three exchange students, one who starts and the other two who play a good bit, but for the most part, it’s basically the same kids who’ve been with us the last three years. Our top 11 can compete with anybody, but this year we can go down to at least 15 players without losing a whole lot. That’s a huge difference. We’ve got a strong sophomore class and a couple of really good freshmen, so the next three or four years look good if we can hold the line.”