BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
NORTHVILLE, Mich. – Two years ago, Northville got a taste of the Final Four. This season, the Mustangs are attending the ball again but want more helpings at the end.
The always-tough Northville is one of the four remaining teams left in the MHSAA Division 1 boys soccer state tournament, as the second-ranked Mustangs play host and third-ranked Troy Athens Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the state semifinals.
But the white elephant in the room is that Northville – despite all of its great teams over the last 40-plus years – has never captured a state championship in boys soccer. In fact, the Mustangs have never even been to the grand ballroom and enjoyed a final dance.
This week will be the third time the program has advanced to the Final Four – and the Northville faithful hope that the third time is really a charm. Previously, the Mustangs reached the semis in 2007 before falling to a loaded and eventual state champion East Kentwood, 3-2. Two years ago, Northville made another run to the Final Four only to come up short, again falling to the eventual state champion Okemos, 1-0.
Veteran Northville coach Henry Klimes, who has roamed the sidelines at the school since 1990 – that’s 34 seasons if one is good at math – laughed at the trip down memory lane. Northville has normally been a quality team but has lost in the district finals, regional semifinals or regional finals a few times over the years to go along with stalling out in the state semifinals twice.
“No, we haven’t (been that far),” chuckled Klimes. “We’ve come close a few times. It takes more than just having a good team. You have to be lucky sometimes. And that’s not easy with the route teams in our area have to take every year. Just getting out of districts is tough. There is so many good teams in our area.”
Looking at the map, several quality programs are within 20 miles of Northville, including the likes of Novi, Novi Detroit Catholic Central, Livonia Stevenson, Brighton, Hartland, Walled Lake Northern, Walled Lake Central, Canton, Plymouth, Salem and South Lyon just to name a few. Many of those aforementioned programs have at least been to the state finals and four of them have captured state titles in their respective pasts – Livonia Stevenson, Detroit Catholic Central, Salem and Canton.
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Brighton has a great chance this season if it can get past a red-hot Troy Athens team riding a 15-game win streak after finishing third in a brutally-tough OAA Red Division. Northville captured the equally tough KLAA West Division, KLAA Tournament, district and regional titles over the past two months and is no slouch either.
“I think Athens is lot like us to be honest,” offered Klimes. “We are both very similar and I think we mirror each other. I’m expecting a good game with them. They have a lot of depth, they are very fast on the attack and have guys that can attack 1-v-1 or go outside. They are very sound defensively and don’t make a ton of mistakes. We truly are very similar.”
After a major rebuilding campaign in 2019, where the Mustangs received a heavy dose of reality and struggled to a 4-11-3 overall record and fifth-place finish in the KLAA-West, Northville began to climb back out of its temporary stay in purgatory and again reached a high-level of competitiveness in 2020-2023.
During the 2020 Covid-shortened season, the Mustangs finished a respectable 9-4-2 and landed in second in the KLAA-West. The season came to an unexpected loss to North Farmington in the district semifinals.
Northville posted one of its best seasons to date in 2021, finishing 17-2-4 overall, 10-0-4 in the loaded KLAA-West, and captured the KLAA Tournament, district and regional crowns before being ousted by that uber-talented Okemos side two years ago. The program pitched 12 shutouts and outscored its opposition 54-13.
Last season with a large senior class, the Mustangs again posted a very respectable ledger at 13-3-4 which featured 11 more shutouts and a 44-13 scoring edge. The only problem was Northville was always the bridesmaid in 2022, finishing second to Salem in the KLAA-West and again losing to the Rocks in the district championship.
“There’s normally someone from our league that makes a run,” noted Klimes. “Last year it was Salem and two years ago it was us. Canton had some great teams (in the previous decade) and won a couple of state championships. Novi has won one. Livonia Stevenson, which comes from the other division of the KLAA, won a few back in the day. Again, its not easy going far in the tournament from our area (of the state).”
Yes, indeed, Northville does hail from a power pocket of soccer. But the Mustangs have traditionally done quite well. This year is no exception.
Northville carries a 19-2-1 record into the semifinals clash with Athens, a program that Northville has not played in “around 15 years,” noted Klimes.
The Mustangs again have had a great season, earning division, conference, district and regional titles and own a 76-17 scoring edge with 11 shutouts. Northville has won six straight and are 14-1 in its last 15 games.
The Mustangs graduated 16 players and had another junior bolt for an MLS Next Academy, but with a solid core the team has continued to excel and have remained in the Division 1 Top 15 all season. Northville did very well on the All-KLAA postseason teams this year, as senior third-year starter Nick Settle (CB), seniors Riku Sato (D) and Emir Tascioglu (M), and juniors Collin Sargent (D), Gabe Rivera (M), Alex McCallum (F), Haithem Al-Zoubi (F) and Zach Pheiffer (G) all earning All-League status. Seniors Caden Maurer (M) and Hyuga Jozaki (M) and junior Ryan Afsari (M) also earned honorable-mention all-league for the Mustangs. There’s several others on this talented and deep roster that have contributed to the team’s success.
Together, they have but one common goal – win two games this week and be the last team standing on the dance floor and enjoy a feast of a lifetime in the end.
“We’re going to try,” admitted Klimes. “I’m proud of this group because they have done so well after we lost 17 players from last year. We have come together and had a fantastic season and hopefully we can get out of here with the result we wanted.”