North Allegheny boys soccer defies predictions with win in playoffs |
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Senior Steve Binnig was one of three co-captains of North Allegheny's 2014 boys soccer team. The team won its first WPIAL playoff game in nine years. Binnig also was one of only three returning starters on the team.

Steve Binnig couldn’t have imagined North Allegheny would have the lead against an undefeated team in the playoffs.

North Allegheny’s boys soccer team, which returned just three starters from last season, wasn’t supposed to be that good.

It was supposed to be a rebuilding year, probably a down year with so many inexperienced players contributing on varsity. North Allegheny instead had the lead against an undefeated Upper St. Clair team in the WPIAL quarterfinals because Binnig scored the game’s first goal.

“Going up against Upper St. Clair, that’s big,” Binnig said. “A lot of guys didn’t know what to expect in that game because we knew we were playing a great team. There was some uncertainty outside of wanting to give it our best shot.”

Binnig’s best shot, his seventh goal of the season, came from about 20 yards out and put North Allegheny up 1-0.

While the Tigers eventually lost the Oct. 23 game, the goal was a highlight of the surprising season.

“It was the action of scoring that goal that really showed who we were as a team this year,” said Binnig, 17, of McCandless. “It wasn’t just me. It was everyone who set up that play, everyone that worked so hard to get to that point in the season. If you’re going to talk about anyone, talk about everyone.”

The team had returning starters Binnig, goalkeeper Luke Nolan and junior defender Nick Thornton.

Seniors Binnig, Nolan and Kevin Dougherty were the team’s captains.

They had help from other seniors, such as Adam Maloney and Bobby Upton, and underclassmen, such as junior Dillon Thoma and freshman Josh Luchini.

Players pointed to the team’s strong bond that led to their winning season and playoff run.

“We got along better and were better friends with each other than some previous teams,” said Dougherty, 18, of Wexford. “I think other teams had rifts that took away from their potential sometimes. Everyone on this team stepped up together, and I think that helped.”

It was also a team of players who learned difficult lessons together.

North Allegheny was the first team in its section to beat Seneca Valley in more than a year, a highlight of the season, but that also was the reason the team lacked drive later, said Nolan, 17, of Wexford.

“That was Seneca Valley’s first section loss in something like 27 games, and for us to look at ourselves and to think we did that really showed how much we could do together,” he said. “But I think whenever after we beat them and when we clinched a playoff spot, we kind of dropped off. We didn’t have that drive anymore.”

North Allegheny found its drive in time for the playoffs. The Tigers beat Pittsburgh’s Taylor Allderdice 3-0, to achieve their goal of getting past the WPIAL’s first round.

It was the first Tigers team to win in a playoff game in nine years.

“It felt pretty good to be first team to make it past first round in while,” Dougherty said.

The playoffs ended for NA with the 2-1 loss to Upper St. Clair, but the Tigers have high hopes for next year.

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer.

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