Thinking about coming out of retirement this year with the oldest DD's age group being mellow and subdued now, still have another year or two with the 06s to talk game with the SoCalSoccer Forum crew, so why not?!? CRL Play In is upon us and so is another season with constant change. If it's not one thing it's the other and the past few years have been exactly that. Calendar Year, DA, and now the fight for the "patch to rule all patches" between DA and ECNL is just heating up. The 06s initially looked like they would be spared a shake up, but alas the drama is just beginning as in their first year on the big field we will see ECNL / DPL / CRL / SCSDL / CSL / SDDA / Presidio amongst the alphabet soup that is SoCal Soccer! But I digress, back to the issue at hand. May typically gets things going in earnest with Memorial Weekend on the calendar and a handful of quality tournaments to get a real first glimpse at what the squads will look like. CRL Play In has the market cornered and kicks off May with a bang, as 20 teams vie for a shot at CRL League and form a true amalgam of teams from the different leagues which we only get a sample from during tournaments. With a handful of teams having earned the nod to CRL League via automatic qualifiers, this weekend will see 20 teams going for 10 spots to join them beginning on the weekend of July 7-8. Let's look at some of the #'s and then breakdown the groups. Teams: 20 (5 Groups of 4 Teams) Advancing to CRL League: 10 Teams (Top 2 Teams from each Group) Total # of Games: 30 Venue: SoCal Sports Complex in Oceanside Group A Beach FC - LB Pre-Academy - Perez Rebels SC - Elite OC Surf - C. Swanson IE Surf Premier DO Breakdown: Group A on paper belongs to Beach FC. Perez will have a much bigger space to play with now and his teams will play fundamental soccer at a fast and daunting pace that can have you down a few before you know it. His team last year plateaued and although always in the mix, never got over the hump to tussle with the top 5 on a consistent basis. Picking up quite a few girls will require some assimilation but I don't think the new players will have any trouble adapting to the style of play. This leaves us with the battle for 2nd place...Rebels and IE Surf battled it out at Surf Cup last year in a fun one to watch with Rebels getting the late winner. Rebels always gets brownie points for style of play and IE Surf tried to build a similar reputation last year testing the waters against Flight 1 competition while pacing themselves with a long term goal in mind. Both teams have enough to earn the 2nd spot in group and ultimately it will come down to their showdown against one another. OC Surf comes into this looking to play with house money and steal some points from the other 3 teams that would be mistaken in overlooking them. Points are at a premium and OC Surf has nothing to lose. Group B SDSC Academy - Navy Pateadores - RA SoCal Academy - Chavez AC Brea - PDA Breakdown: How many times did we write SDSC off last year in National Cup? I know I did given the teams in front of them, and that seems to be the way they like it. Look away and don't mind them at all and they'll take care of business. They won't fly under the radar in this group as they have a team that takes itself very seriously and will not sleep on them in SoCal Academy. SoCal is leaving CSL and will insert themselves in a much more competitive SCDSL week in and week out. That mentality obligates them to advance into CRL League and they'll have a tough match up against SDSC and another team that likes to keep it close and frustrating. Pats kept chipping away at the process last season and with David Baillie now at the helm they will look to build something that gives their girls a shot at the DA squad next season. AC Brea ended their season on a low note after drawing a tough bracket in State, but at times last year were one of the better CSL teams in man marking and disrupting teams best players to open games up in their favor. They have a tall task ahead of them in this group. Group C Real So Cal Pre-Academy LA Galaxy SD Pre-Academy - Eckerlin Beach FC - SB - Rodriguez Arsenal FC - Central Coast Breakdown: Another tough group with a respectable favorite in RSC, followed closely by Galaxy SD and a Beach SB squad that will turn some heads this season despite the shadow cast by their LB counterparts. This one may come down to tie breakers as the aforementioned teams can split points and muddy this group up for a clear 1-2 combination of teams. Arsenal FC will get their first real test of competition as they haven't seen the likes of these at this point. But quite often, an unknown competitor can work both ways and can work in their favor. Group D SD Force FC - Ocampo Legends FC North Valley SC South Valley SC - Gore Breakdown: Normally I would say SD Force and Legends are favorites out of the gate, but I have a strong feeling this group is wide open. Ocampo is going to get these girls there by the end of the season but having to play at a high level from the jump during Play In is no easy feat. He'll have to have his handy dandy joystick ready to ensure they don't get tripped up. Legends FC is coming off an offseason of uncertainty with the musical chairs played with coaches to start a new season. They have some personnel changes but they'll need some of the National Cup intensity to prevent a slow start. North Valley had the occasional flirtation with Flight 1 competition last year and did about as expected. This being an open group will benefit them and they'll have an opportunity to stay in the games, how long will depend entirely on them. South Valley plays a style of soccer that served them very well on the small field, but transitioning that to the big field means a lot more space to cover, and they tend to cover it by the player as opposed to the ball. If they have the conditioning they'll be the favorite to win this group. Group E OC Surf - D. Swanson Albion SC - Johnson Strikers FC - North Red - RA CZ Elite Breakdown: This is the most balanced of the 5 groups with no clear drop off after team 3 to team 4. Doug Swanson's girls don't just live off Swanson's reputation, they walk the walk and play a beautiful game. They have the space to spread teams out, but will still have to perform their game plan with pace in order to dictate the games. Albion had a respectful season and surprised every few games or so, which puts them in a position to try and do the same here and win at least 1 of these 3 games and make it very interesting. Strikers will look to have the spotlight to themselves this year after an interesting couple of years of both of their teams turning heads, now it's all on them to carry their progress going forward. And last but certainly not least, the famous / infamous depending on what side of the fence you fall on, Cherif Zein and his CZ Elite girls. One of the most skilled bunch of girls who are scrappy and have their coach's personality on and off the field. They have been preparing themselves very well in the offseason and will be ready to go this weekend. Well folks, there you have it! Post scores from this weekend, your takes on the games as they happen / afterwards, and don't be strangers. I'll be out there on Saturday rooting my DD on and her extended soccer family, all of you! May the little ones compete, have fun, but above all else, stay healthy and safe! See you out on the pitch!