Springfield Lanphier was ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 3A for much of the 2011-12 season. But many observers insisted that Peoria Manual, with three Division I players in its lineup, was the best team of all.Then Peoria Central stepped in and attempted to sway opinion. Two weeks ago, the Lions defeated Springfield Lanphier 70-59 and claimed the No, 1 ranking. They hoped to seal their standing by sweeping their regular-season series with Peoria Manual last Friday. But Peoria Manual won 55-43.So the debate still persists. Who is No. 1? Peoria Central and Peoria Manual have split their regular-season series six times in the last seven years. In a rivalry that dates to 1912, Manual holds a 52-44 edge since 1972. Both are top-seeded in their regionals and could meet for the sectional title in Peoria.There are other Downstate teams that could contend for the Class 3A title. Washington could upset Peoria Central and Peoria Manual. And East St. Louis, Mount Vernon or Chatham Glenwood could emerge from the Carbondale sectional. Meanwhile, can the Chicago area muster a contender? Orr, Marshall, Farragut, St. Ignatius, Lemont, Hillcrest and North Chicago head the list.At Carbondale, East St. Louis (20-8) has emerged as a favorite in the wake of its overwhelming 103-66 victory over O'Fallon last Friday. Deshawn Munson, a 6-foot-4 junior, scored 27 points and 6'4" senior Brandon Johnson and Johnny McCray each contributed 16."We played very, very well. We came out wanting to make a statement and we did that tonight," East St. Louis coach Ray Coleman told the Belleville News-Democrat. "We feel we have the ballclub that can make some real noise in the postseason, especially if we come out and play like we did tonight."O'Fallon coach Rick Gibson agreed. "The thing about East St. Louis is they're so deep. Most teams can go seven or eight deep before their level goes down. East St. Louis has that starting five but then they bring in the second five who are just as good as starters for a lot of other teams," he said.Mount Vernon (21-6) is led by 5-foot-8 senior Ty'riil Trimble (12 ppg), 6-foot-1 senior Leontae Badger (10 ppg) and 6-foot-2 senior Clay Payne (9 ppg) on offense. But coach Scott Gamber's Rams rely on a packed in man-to-man defense that has allowed fewer than 40 points in 18 of 27 games.Chatham Glenwood (25-4), which has lost twice to Springfield Lanphier, has bounced back from last year's 12-17 finish behind 6-foot-4 sophomore Peyton Allen (17 ppg), point guard Tyler Thurston and 6-foot-5, 210-pound sophomore Daniel Helm (10 ppg, 6 rpg), a transfer from Kaneland.Look for Springfield Lanphier (23-3) and Lincoln (15-15) to meet for the third time in the sectional final at Lincoln. Lanphier won 51-38 last Friday and could regain the No. 1 ranking in Class 3A in the wake of Peoria Central's loss to Peoria Manual.Lanphier, which has split two games with Peoria Central and has beaten Peoria Manual, relies on its quickness, the exceptional guard play of sophomore Larry Austin Jr. and T.J. Davis and the scoring of 6-foot-1 senior Everett Clemons (21 ppg). Austin is one of the most recruited players in the class of 2014 with offers from Illinois, Bradley, Memphis and DePaul."Lincoln doesn't shoot the ball very well and their guards are 5'7". They aren't a very big team. But they are as quick as any team I've seen in a long time," Lincoln coach Neil Alexander said.Despite its record, Alexander believes his Lincoln team can play with Lanphier or anyone else. In December, the Railsplitters lost four games by margins of 2, 1, 1 and 2 points. His ball-press defense is as effective as ever, allowing only 40 points per game. His team recently allowed only 30 points in back-to-back games but lost both of them. The offense is led by 6-foot-4 senior Christian Van Hook and 6-foot-1 senior Jordan Gesner.There will be a lot of fireworks at the Glenbard South sectional, arguably the most competitive in the state in Class 3A. Orr (19-4), which lost to Simeon in the Public League semifinals but has beaten Marshall and Farragut, is the favorite with 6-foot-7 junior Marquise Pryor (17 ppg, 19 rpg), 6-foot-7 sophomore Tyquone Greer (13 ppg) and junior point guard Jamal McDowell.Marshall coach Henry Cotton believes 6-foot-4 senior Milton Doyle is the best player in the state next to Simeon's Jabari Parker and few observers argue with him. Doyle (22 ppg), who will play for Isiah Thomas at Florida International, is complemented by 6-foot-1 senior Korbin McClain (14 ppg).Farragut coach William "Wolf" Nelson rates 6-foot-7 senior Rashaun Stimage (20 ppg, 12 rpg, 4 blocks) among the best players he has produced in 21 years. In fact, he rates Stimage and Simeon's Steve Taylor as the best players in the class of 2012 in Illinois. If the Admirals are to advance, Stimage will need help from 6-foot-5 David Scott and point guard Lavell Boyd.St. Joseph (18-8) has come on strong and coach Gene Pingatore, who has 890 victories in 43 years, is making another run at the state finals with 6-foot-1 Tennessee State-bound guard Reggie Johnson, 6'3" senior Jawaan Toney, 6-foot-5 sophomore Paul Turner and 6-foot-8 junior A.J. Patty.Riverside-Brookfield (22-4), which edged Ridgewood 60-56 last Friday to claim its 11th consecutive conference title, is led by junior point guard Damonta Henry (17 ppg), 6-foot-7 junior Miki Ljuboja (14 ppg, 8 rpg) and 6-foot-3 senior Luke Nortier.Two of the most prolific scorers in the state could be matched in the Grayslake Central sectional if North Chicago's Illinois State-bound guard Aaron Simpson (26 ppg) meets Ridgewood's Andy Mazurczak, a 6-foot-1 senior who is averaging 24 points per game. In last Friday's 60-56 loss to Riverside-Brookfield, Mazurczak converted 14-of-14 free throws and scored a career-high 35 points for the Rebels (19-7).St. Ignatius (21-5) figures to dominate its own sectional with 5-foot-10 guard Brian Howard (20 ppg), 6-foot-8 Peter Ryckbosch, point guard Jack Crepeau, 6-foot-4 senior Marty McClure and sophomore shooting guard Lester Larry, who scored 20 in last Friday's 66-39 rout of Mount Carmel.Hillcrest (21-5) and Lemont (24-2) are the 1-2 seeds in the Rich East sectional. But Lemont defeated Hillcrest 58-57 last Friday behind junior Juozas Balciunas (17 ppg), junior Joe Hehir, sophomore Mike Wisz and 6-foot-3 senior Matt Lipowski. Coach Rick Runaas' team hasn't lost since Christmas, the best the school has produced since 1975.Hillcrest, which won the state title in 2010 and reached the sectional semifinal last year before losing to Morgan Park, is led by 6-foot-2 junior Jovan Mooring (18 ppg), 6-foot-6 senior Jalen Loving (14 ppg) and 6-foot-6 senior Jayone Troutman. "We have as much talent as our state championship team," third-year coach Don Houston said.All of which brings us to the Peoria sectional.Peoria Central (21-3) has great size with 6-foot-10 senior Kevin Jordan (13 ppg, 7 rpg) and 6-foot-7 senior Trey Kellem (15 ppg, 8 rpg) but coach Dan Ruffin is concerned about the consistency of his guard play. His floor leader is 5-foot-6 senior Jerrell White.Peoria Manual (20-5), which finished second in state in 2008 and 2010 and lost to Peoria Central in the regional final last year, is making the most of Loyola-bound point guard Jeff White (18 ppg, 4.5 assists), Wright State-bound 6-foot-5 Jacoby Roddy (12 ppg, 12 rpg) and 6-foot-3 junior guard A.J. Riley (12 ppg).In last Friday's duel, White scored 21 points and led all rebounders with 10 to spark Manual's victory. Kellum led Central with 15 points and Jordan had 11 points and nine rebounds. Central was limited to only five field goals in the second half and played without 6-foot-4 senior guard Adonis Foote, whose status for the regional is uncertain.Washington or Morton could be the spoiler. They earned a share of the Mid-Illini Conference title last Friday as Washington (23-5) trounced Canton 69-40 and Morton (22-5) crushed East Peoria 56-34.Washington, which lost a 51-50 decision to Peoria Central, is led by 6-foot-7 junior Alec Peters (17.5 ppg) and 6-foot-5 senior Ben Ryan (18 ppg, 9 rpg), who scored 32 points on 16-of-19 shooting against Canton on Friday. Coach Kevin Brown took Washington to fourth in state in 2008.At Morton, second-year coach Jarrett Brown's team has beaten Peoria Manual and split two games with conference rival Washington. The Potters are led by 6-foot-9 senior Brett Bisping (18 ppg, 9 rpg), who is committed to Siena, and 6-foot-4 senior Will Headean (14 ppg).
For the past two seasons, David Accam was a bright spot on bad Chicago Fire teams.
This season, with more talent on the roster, Accam has blossomed into one of the most dangerous players in the league.
He had a hat trick and an assist in Saturday’s 4-0 win against Orlando. That gives him 10 goals and six assists on the season. Only two other players in Major League Soccer have 16 combined goals and assists, New York City FC's David Villa and teammate Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goal-scorer in the league).
“I thought I could do anything on the pitch today,” Accam said. “I just wanted to enjoy myself and entertain the fans and also help the team win. That’s what we did today, especially after my first goal. I just thought I could get more goals and also help the team win.”
Accam’s big game comes after he sat out the previous two games, which were both played on turf. He wasn’t listed on the injury report, but coach Veljko Paunovic said, “he didn’t recover from the physical issues that he had in the previous game.”
The rest seemed to do Accam some good, but his success in the game (as well as his recent run of eight goals and four assists in his last eight matches) coincides with questions about his future. He was recently rumored to be the target of a Turkish club.
In the past, Accam has spoken about his ambition to play at the highest levels. Typically, that means Europe. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said last month that he expects offers to come in for the 26-year-old because he is a good player in his prime ages.
So is Accam playing like someone trying to earn a new contract? That could be either impressing potential suitors in Europe or boosting his negotiation position with the Fire. Rodriguez has talked about contract negotiations with Accam before, and said those will not resume again until after the season.
“I wanted to be in a team where I would develop as a person and also win trophies, whether here or somewhere (else) I don’t know,” Accam said. “For me, I’m doing really well here and every year if I keep playing well there will be always interest. I know there is a lot of interest because I’m doing well. For me it’s always extra motivation to keep doing well. You don’t know where I will end up, whether here or somewhere else. I’ll just keep playing.”
Accam’s play earned him another call-up to the Ghanaian national team. He will join the team on Sunday for a pair of friendlies in the U.S. The Black Stars will take on Mexico in Houston on June 28 and the U.S. in East Hartford, Conn., on July 1 as the two North American countries prepare for the Gold Cup.
“That’s where I want to be,” Accam said. “I want to be playing for the national team so it’s extra motivation for me to perform well and also to go to the national team.”
Accam has been one of the most productive players in MLS this year, based on goals and assists, and is young enough to draw the attention of plenty of teams. For now, the Fire have him as a key part of the best season the club has had in years.
“I think that he understands very well how to play with the team that we have now and with the teammates that he is surrounded with,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We just have to work to give David opportunities… Then we expect that performances like that will come even more.”