Just about every league game in Howard County girls soccer can have a bearing on the county title, but the biggest so far will be Friday's 3 p.m. showdown between No. 5 Centennial and No. 9 Wilde Lake at Centennial.
They remain the only two teams unbeaten in league competition. The Eagles also have won four nonleague games and Wilde Lake has dropped two of its five nonleague matches.
Both of the Wildecats' losses have come to teams ranked higher than they are -- No. 1 McDonogh, 5-1, and No. 4 Fallston, 2-1 in double overtime.
On the other hand, Centennial has outscored opponents, 26-5, but the Eagles have not played a team ranked higher than No. 9. They beat then-No. 9 C. Milton Wright, 4-1, in the season opener on Sept. 12.
Centennial co-coach Kevin Flynn said Wilde Lake's tough schedule "is probably to their advantage. In most of our games, we haven't had a lot of pressure put on our defense and this is a game where we will."
Wildecats coach Rick Wilson agreed. "I think this is going to be a defensive game. You're going to see two very similar teams. They've got a number of people who can put the ball in the goal as do we."
Michelle Clare and Jen Coulson should offer the greatest challenge to Wilde Lake's defense, led by sweeper Katie Douglas and stopper Carrie Brelsford. Both Eagles strikers have scored six goals and midfield playmaker Lauren Molinaro has added five.
A handful of other players can score too, including Sarah Bartholomew and Katie Garrity who, along with Coulson, scored in the Eagles' 3-0 win over Howard Friday. In Wednesday's 5-1 win at Westminster, five players scored -- Coulson, Clare, Bartholomew, Garrity and Shara Boonshaft.
On the other hand, the Wildecats send a similarly balanced attack against Centennial's defense, led by sweeper Tonia Riismandel and stopper Boonshaft. Amanda Berman leads Wilde Lake with nine goals, and Kristen Riismandel and Bridget White have five each and Lindsay Waxler three.
Berman scored two and Waxler and Ann Merke added one each in Friday's 4-2 win over Oakland Mills. Four or more players have scored in four of the Wildecats' wins.
This afternoon, both teams face their third league games. Wilde Lake plays host to Glenelg and the Eagles face Hammond.
Although it appears that the Wildecats have the best chance to match up with Centennial, Eagles co-coach Dave Greenberg is wary of all the local competition. "The Wilde Lake game is important," said Greenberg, "but they can all be difficult. Nothing's easy. All these kids can play."
"That's the thing about Howard County," said Wilson. "There are no sleepers."
The big county showdown in volleyball also takes place this week. No. 6 Mount Hebron finally gets a crack at No. 1 Centennial tonight.
The Vikings (8-2) head to Centennial (11-1) for a 6 p.m. match that will leave just one atop the county league standings. Both are 6-0 in the league and neither had lost a match until Saturday at the Bulldog Classic at North Caroline High School in Denton.
The Vikings had hoped to play Centennial in the tournament, but they did not play well enough in their five-team pool to advance to the quarterfinals. The Eagles won all of their pool matches and reached the tournament championship match, where they fell, 8-15, 15-10, 15-4, to Northern of Calvert County.
Losses to No. 5 Severna Park and Richard Montgomery in the early round sent the Vikings home early. Senior Dani Vissers said the Vikings might have been looking far ahead.
"I think a lot of it was that we focused on the Centennial match, and we didn't concentrate on how good the competition might be here," she said after Saturday's matches. "We came in a little bit overconfident too, because we played Severna Park in a scrimmage here earlier this fall, and we beat them pretty badly."