Losing eight seniors from last year’s squad, the Raiders will field a younger, but still talented, squad as it makes another run at a playoff berth.
“We have several returning players,” Riverwood coach Shaun Leyden said. “We have some promising freshmen and we have a large sophomore class. We had more experienced players last year, but there are technically more skillful players who are better on the ball. Our goal is to advance into the state playoffs.”
The Raiders were 2-2-1 going into last Friday’s crucial Region 7AAAAA game against defending region champion Pope — the third-ranked team in the latest Eurosport.com AAAAA boys’ poll.
“We had a very good early win in a scrimmage [1-0 over South Paulding Feb. 6],” Leyden said. “We played well against Westminster [in a 2-1 loss Feb. 25] in the second half and that was a bit of a wakeup call. We lost our first region game [1-0 to Creekview Feb. 28], which was a big surprise. But, we rebounded [last] Tuesday and won [over Forsyth Central] 7-1, our first region victory. You don’t normally see those types of scores in a region game.”
For Leyden, Riverwood’s aggressive offense is expected to be a major key to its success.
“This year, we have some skillful, attack-minded players who play with pace, who play with speed,” Leyden said. “They are very dangerous on the attack. So, our big thing is to work up front and improve ourselves in the back. We’re still experimenting and working on the rest of the lineup.”
Junior defender/midfielder Austen Godwin is among the key players for the Raiders, along with junior midfielder Martin Isaak, senior defender Armando Cruz and sophomore forward/midfielder Misael Nava.
Riverwood, which finished runner-up in 7AAAAA last year, will have to contend with the likes of state semifinalist Pope as well as perennial postseason teams Osborne and Kell in region play.
“It’s a tough region,” Leyden said. “Every game is an important game — we tell that to the players. Pope is strong every year. Anybody can make it through. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night.”