(HAMMOND, La.) — “Back-to-back” was the chant sung by the St. Paul’s faithful as the Soccer Wolves, led by now two-time MVP Michael Dufour, defeated the Catholic High Bears 2-0 to bag their seventh state title in ten straight title appearances. This current St. Paul’s team may have just cemented their place as the greatest team ever in St. Paul’s, possibly Louisiana, soccer history with their unprecedented, draw-less, undefeated season.
To say the Wolves dominated in their regular season is an understatement. The team tore through the state, scoring 110 goals in 25 matches (4.6 goals per game) across the regular season. Along with finishing first in the district and the state, the Wolves beat the best teams in Florida in the Tampa Bay Invitational Tournament and are ranked No. 1 in the nation on Max Preps and (for the first time) Top Drawer Soccer.
Before triumphing in the championship game, the Wolves had to play through a brutal playoff gauntlet. Despite beating Sulphur High and Lafayette by a combined score of 5-1, the Wolves struggled to close out games against two lower-seeded opponents. In the semifinals, the Wolves had to play arguably the second best team in the state, Dutchtown. It was almost a disaster. The Wolves threw away a three-goal lead and only managed to win by a late own goal off a Michael Dufor cross. The 4-3 victory for the Wolves reflected the quality of the Dutchtown side but questions of the team’s fortitude began to make the rounds. By St. Paul’s standards, it was a rough playoff run.
There was a cloud of doubt surrounding the final game against Catholic High. Ghosts of the infamous 2017-2018 season looked to be haunting the St. Paul’s contingent that strove to make history. In 2018, the Wolves waltzed through the regular season, decimating opponents left and right. But in the playoffs, they limped their way to the finals, managing only unconvincing and shaky wins. The 2018 finals game ended in tears as Jesuit fans stormed the field, winning the game in golden goal overtime because St. Paul’s failed to close out what should have been a 1-0 win.
After winning the finals last Saturday, I asked senior striker, James Bradford, if the team had any doubts or fears after such a troubling playoff. He said, “No.” “No?” I asked again in disbelief. He grinned, “no.” And the championship game said as much. They came. They saw. They conquered. St. Paul’s put together an imperious team performance to beat Catholic High. Every touch, every pass, every tackle spoke of quality, and each box-to-box sprint, each run at goal, each second defender jockey spoke of a desire. The Wolves went up 32 minutes into the game. Senior captain and MVP of last year’s final, Michael Dufour, made a run into the box and found junior left back CJ Paretti. With two deft touches, Paretti beat one Catholic High defender and curled the ball home in the bottom right of the goal.
Other than a short ten-minute stretch of urgent attacks from Catholic High, the Wolves never looked like conceding. St. Paul’s kept the pressure on in search of a second goal, which kept the Bears attack at bay. Dufour would find that second goal, which would earn him his second MVP award, in the 38th minute. Catholic, over-committed in the dying minutes, found themselves backtracking as junior Caleb Nicotri launched a blistering sprint toward goal, passed the ball to Dufour who burned the nearest defender over ten yards, and crushed the ball past the outstretched keeper. Catholic High deserves high praise for their commitment to clean, attacking football. They pressed high up the field and never resorted to excessive physicality. Holding this St. Paul’s team to only one goal for a majority of the game says a lot about the strong organization and unquestionable effort by the Baton Rouge side.
“It’s a great feeling- there’s nothing like it,” Dufour said about becoming a 2-time MVP and 2-time State Champion. “It leaves you speechless, really. I don’t know what to say, especially with all of the fans and all of my great teammates.” The senior goal scorer was an obvious choice for the Most Valuable Player award, but from striker to goalkeeper there were exceptional performances throughout the team. Juniors Ashton Mouton, Nicotri, Paretti, and goalie Hunter Kergsion all put out excellent performances, proof that the future of St. Paul’s soccer is bright.
The 2019-2020 team now joins the ranks of the many St. Paul’s greats who have earned the title “Undefeated State Champions,” but this team is the first to go undefeated without allowing for a single tie. It begs the question: how does this team stack up against all the others to have played under Coach Sean Moser?
“They worked hard every practice. They kept it light. They didn’t take themselves too seriously and succumb to the pressure of always having a target on your back. They set a good example and a high bar. This is one of the highest bars ever set here at St. Paul’s,” said Moser. When asked directly if this team was the “highest bar” ever set, Moser chuckled, “It would be a very good game to see a few other years against this team. It would be very, very close. I’m reticent to say they are the best ever here at St. Paul’s, but they’re definitely top two.”
Clearly Moser did not want to pick favorites, but, back in October before the season started Moser said, “In years past my 2011 team that broke Jesuit’s 93-game winning streak, we used to be able to say they could go up against anybody. But my 2015 team, I think, could take my 2011 team because they were deeper. So this year’s team, I think, is the deepest team ever. That said, I think their weaknesses will be in communication and leadership. We’ll see if the team comes together and improves in those two areas. I know that we have the deepest level of talent that I have ever had in the 11 years that I have been here, but it’s up to the players on the field to put it all together.”
District champions, state champions, Tampa Bay Invitational Champions, undefeated, no draws, number one in the nation- as far as this author is concerned, Moser’s “deepest team” put it all together and more. Perhaps the 2019-2020 St. Paul’s Soccer Wolves can be safely crowned the greatest team in school history.