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Former City League power Allderdice confident vs. WPIAL foes

| Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, 10:34 p.m.
Allderdice senior Jay Strayhorn heads the ball during a game against Mt. Lebanon on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Allderdice senior Jay Strayhorn heads the ball during a game against Mt. Lebanon on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.
Allderdice juniors Harrison Smith (right) and Ever Rodriguez work the ball upfield during a game against Mt. Lebanon on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Allderdice juniors Harrison Smith (right) and Ever Rodriguez work the ball upfield during a game against Mt. Lebanon on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.
Allderdice junior Ever Rodriguez heads the ball during a game against Mt. Lebanon on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Allderdice junior Ever Rodriguez heads the ball during a game against Mt. Lebanon on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.
Allderdice seniors Jay Strayhorn (11) and Jakob Wells (6) block a shot with teammates during a game against Mt. Lebanon on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Allderdice seniors Jay Strayhorn (11) and Jakob Wells (6) block a shot with teammates during a game against Mt. Lebanon on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.
Allderdice senior Jay Strayhorn battles for the ball during a game against Mt. Lebanon on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Allderdice senior Jay Strayhorn battles for the ball during a game against Mt. Lebanon on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.

As recently as last week, following a tense 1-0 win at Mt. Lebanon, Allderdice senior midfielder/defender Jakob Wells heard the mutterings from fans in the stands.

Losing to a City League school — how could it happen, especially at a place with a history of strong soccer like Mt. Lebanon?

Wells walked off the field reassured that there still are plenty of doubters around the WPIAL for the Dragons to surprise.

In its third season as a member of the WPIAL, the Allderdice boys soccer team is more confident than ever about its chances of competing with what the Dragons call “the suburban schools.” The Dragons (7-3-2, 7-2-1 in Section 4-AAA) are playoff-bound for a second straight season, and they're likely to finish the regular season with a winning record for the first time since leaving the City League in 2011.

“The City League was great, but it's a memory,” said coach Sam Bellin, whose Dragons dominated District 8 for years, including 2011, when they went 20-1 and outscored opponents 115-9. “We feel very good about being among the better WPIAL teams so far this year. It certainly seemed a long way away a few years ago.”

Allderdice finished its first season in the WPIAL 6-9-2, including a 3-7-2 record in Section 3-AAA. Most opponents overwhelmed the Dragons with speed and strength rather than finesse, Bellin said.

Last season and again this fall, the athleticism gap between Allderdice and its toughest opponents shrank.

“The biggest area of improvement is still probably the physicality,” Wells said. “All these WPIAL teams are about fielding 11 strong athletes rather than just technically sound players.”

Allderdice's most athletic players, Harrison Smith and Ever Rodriguez, earned All-Section 3-AAA nods at midfield and forward a season ago when the Dragons went 7-10-1 with a 4-0 season-ending loss to Seneca Valley in the WPIAL first round.

Smith and Rodriguez, now juniors, continue to create many of the scoring opportunities for Allderdice, which relies less on long passes and set plays than most of its opponents.

“We've always played a lot on the ground instead of over the top and very direct,” Smith said. “We're improving at our ground game and defending their direct style much better.”

There's a melting pot dynamic to Allderdice's playing style, as several of its starters were born outside of the United States. Rodriguez is from El Salvador. Senior forward Hassan Mohammed, who scored the goal in Allderdice's win over Mt. Lebanon last week, is from Kenya. And senior center back Frank Fotie moved to Pittsburgh from Cameroon about seven years ago.

“In Cameroon, it was more technical,” Fotie said. “Here, it's more about who's the most physical.”

In 6-foot-8 junior Tim Pugh at central midfield, the Dragons have a safeguard against teams that want to rely on winning headers.

And Pugh also is among the Dragons who prevent Allderdice from fixating on its current achievements when so much remains attainable in the WPIAL.

“I still don't think we get that much respect,” Pugh said. “(Previous Allderdice teammates) just talk about how easy it was (in the City League) and how much better they were. … I feel sorry for them. I love playing in the close games against the Lebos and the Bethel Parks. Winning 12-0 isn't always that fun. It's a lot more fun to win 1-0.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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