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Max Edwards and Elijah McLeod-Ali bring the intensity for Lincoln boys soccer in their goal of a PIL title

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Lincoln High boys soccer's Max Edwards dribbles the ball downfield against McDaniel on Oct. 1, 2021, at McDaniel High School.Helping lead Lincoln High boys soccer's stellar season is a friendship nearly 5,000 miles in the making.

Of course, the duo of Max Edwards and Elijah McLeod-Ali might have traveled that same distance over the years playing club together as well as playing on the Cardinals squad.

Edwards, who's family moved to Portland from England when he was 12, is no doubt the catalyst of the Cardinals offense, which has scored 28 goals in 11 games.

Meanwhile McLeod-Ali is certainly a threat as well, including a penalty kick goal last week against Franklin in the two sides' eventual 1-1 PIL tie.

"They've been around the varsity team for a while, so they definitely lead with their play," Lincoln coach Pablo Dipascuale said. "They'll play their hearts out and even defensively when it's needed. They're more attacks but they help us defensively a ton."

At 8-1-2 overall and 2-0-1 in the PIL, the No. 4-ranked (From the Sept. 27 coaches poll) Cardinals have been riding high in 2021.

At the core of that run has been the duo of Edwards and McLeod-Ali, who not only make opposing defenders nervous, but can cause damage to the opposition's offense.

Edwards said that what he can bring to his squad is not only the natural leadership that comes with being a senior, but also his ability to be a "creator" on offense, whether that is scoring a goal or setting one up.

"Maxy is a very gifted player, he's our top goal scorer," Dipascuale said. "If he's on the ball, we're looking good. We play through him."

As for McLeod-Ali, he knows himself and Edwards make a formidable duo for any opposing defense to handle.

"I think that anyone who is playing us should be aware of the two of us, and they should be scared," McLeod-Ali said. "When we are combining and we're having a good game, there isn't much you can do against us."

Whether it's Edwards dribbling his way down the middle through defenders or McLeod-Ali running down the sides, the Cardinals have plenty of options.

And the two have developed that connection over the years by becoming best friends off the pitch and also club soccer since Edwards crossed the pond.

"We both want the same things out of the game and we both bounce off of each other," Edwards said. "He's a real good role model to have looking up to someone … Seeing him score definitely boosts my confidence and he's such a good teammate to have and such a good friend too."

Couple that with the nine other seniors the Cardinals have and you get a strong, title-contending team.

"There is a desire to compete every single game, they just have that drive and they don't give up," Dipascuale said. "The games we tied or lost, we thought we could have won, we were fighting to the very last second. It's just a team that fights."

Finishing off the PIL is easier said than done with plenty of solid squads filling out the league.

Currently Grant and Lincoln sit atop the standings, both at 2-0-1 in the PIL, as of Oct. 10. The Generals are 8-2-1 overall, the Cardinals 8-1-2.

Franklin, the defending Class 6A champion, sits at 1-1-1 in fourth behind Cleveland, the Lightning's lone league loss, who is 1-0-2. PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Lincoln High boys soccer's Elijah McLeod-Ali dribbles the ball between McDaniel defenders Oct. 1, 2021, at McDaniel High School.

With only four games left on the league slates for teams, the race to the finish will be a tight one.

"I just want to see us kick it into full gear," McLeod-Ali said on the league title run. "I think we've been growing and growing, but I think we just need to reach the top and keep pushing at that level."

While a PIL title would be a big achievement, Edwards believes his team can bring home some even bigger hardware in a 6A state title.

Or in what folks back in England might call the "state cup."

"I think we can go as far as winning the state cup," Edwards said. "This is a special team. I've been on the team since I was a freshman and I don't think we've had a team like this before.

"We're all really good players, we all get along and that's the definition of a team."

Austin White
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