The first step has been taken, with 20 boys' soccer teams from the Stanislaus District having earned bids into the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Now comes the difficult part for a sport that rarely sees crowds of any significant size at its games — maximizing that fan base to gain a real home-field advantage.
The problem is magnified in Division I, which as a 16-team bracket opens play today, otherwise known as Week 9 of the football season. All other divisions are eight teams deep and start play Tuesday.
Modesto High, champions of the Modesto Metro Conference, decided not to do battle against football and has booked the stadium at Downey High for Saturday at 6 p.m. for its first-round game against Whitney.
The two other Division I games involving Stanislaus District teams will kick off at 3 p.m. today. Downey, which finished second in the MMC, will visit Central California Conference champion Merced, while CCC runner-up Golden Valley plays at Stagg.
Modesto's decision to move its game to Saturday at Downey not only makes it the only game in town, but moves the match onto Downey's FieldTurf and off the ragged hybrid softball/soccer pitch on the Modesto High campus.
"It's all for the kids, to give them that playoff atmosphere," said Panthers coach Matt Mendes.
"Our players go to the football games and basketball games and support the other teams. We know we can't recreate that atmosphere, but we do want the kids to have the excitement of playing in front of a crowd and making the game something for them to remember."
Saturday's Division I survivors will move ahead to action on Tuesday, when again some lower-division schools have chosen to adjust start times to maximize crowds.
With Valley Oak League champion Central Valley and runner-up Ceres both earning the right to host first round games in Division 4, there was an opportunity for the schools to stage a doubleheader. However, the football field at Ceres High is worn and dusty, and the playing field at CV has no lights, so a compromise was made.
Central Valley will play on campus at 3 p.m. against River City, then fans will have the chance to grab a bite to eat on the way over to Ceres High to watch the Bulldogs' 6 p.m. kickoff against Whitney.
Western Athletic Conference champion Patterson High, which attracts some of the larger crowds in the area for home soccer games, has moved its first-round game on Tuesday against Ripon High to 7 p.m.
District playoff roll-call
Division 1: Modesto, Downey, Merced, Golden Valley. With first-round wins, Modesto and Merced also would qualify to host second-round games on Tuesday. Modesto's game would be at 3 p.m. at Downey High.
Division 4: Central Valley, Ceres, Sierra. Central Valley is looking at a second-round trip to Placerville to meet powerful El Dorado High (11-2-6.)
Division 5: Bret Harte, Livingston, Hilmar, Escalon, Riverbank, Calaveras, Patterson, Ripon. The champion is guaranteed to be from the district since this division is comprised of three teams from the Trans-Valley League and Western Athletic Conference, and two from the Mother Lode League. Patterson is the team to beat, but it faces a second round road game at Riverbank should the Bruins get past Linden in the first round.
Division 6: Le Grand, Delhi, Mariposa. Mariposa is the defending champion, but must start its quest to defend that title on the road at Capital Christian (14-3-1.)
Division 7: Tioga, Rite of Passage/Sierra Ridge. Tioga made a run to the section title game last year, where it lost 1-0 to Sacramento Country Day. The bracket is set up for a rematch in this year's final.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.