SCARBOROUGH — When the coaches of the SMAA boys’ soccer team had to substitute players into the Senior All-Star game this summer against the Western Maine Conference, they couldn’t decide who to take off the field.

“It would be like subbing Michael Jordan in for Michael Jordan,” said Scarborough Coach Mark Diaz. “That senior class, athletically, was just pretty special.”

Top teams across southern Maine graduated key players last spring. Diaz said this season shapes up to be a “wide-open year.”

Scarborough, the Class A South champ, lost all but three starters to graduation. Yarmouth, the two-time defending Class B state champion, lost all but four.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” Diaz said. “There’s no clear front-runner in my mind.”

Since Diaz began coaching the Red Storm in 1998, they’ve won seven state titles and have made it to the playoffs every year. But they lost 10 seniors – including midfielder Matt Caron, who was dangerous on free kicks and was one of the best in the state on throw-ins.

“We got spoiled with Matt. He just did so many things for us,” Diaz said. “Just once in 10 years do you get a guy like that.”

Caron, who is now at Maine Maritime Academy, is one of four members of last year’s Scarborough team who are playing in college, leaving Diaz to fill a sizable void.

“We always try to prepare guys for their turn, but there is that transition period,” Diaz said. “It takes a while. This is just a different team with different personalities and abilities.”

Yarmouth is in a similar boat. The Clippers have won seven state titles in 20 years under Coach Mike Hagerty. But they graduated 15 seniors and seven starters – three now playing in college.

“Last year, we had a lot of depth. We could play 15 or 16 kids and really not drop down,” Hagerty said. “This year, we are definitely a young team. Our kids who aren’t used to playing at this speed will take some time to adjust.”

Yarmouth and Scarborough aren’t the only teams surrounded by uncertainty.

Portland Coach Rocco Frenzilli said his team, which finished 8-3-5, lost six key players who “basically never came off the field.”

South Portland Coach Bryan Hoy graduated 10 seniors – six of whom he said significantly contributed to his team making it to the Class A South semifinals.

But widespread building years could open doors. Hagerty said Falmouth and Gorham have two of the best senior classes “as far as numbers and quality go.

“I think a lot of teams lost some really talented players,” said Gorham Coach Tim King, who graduated 10 seniors and six starters. “Until you play the games, you don’t really know.”

But King seemed certain of one thing.

“In our league, Scarborough is always No. 1. They have great coaching and strength in numbers, and they’re battle-tested every year.

Diaz has 18 seniors. While just three were starters last season, senior midfielder Garrett King said opponents shouldn’t discount the Red Storm.

“It looks like we have a young herd and there won’t be much to it,” said King, a two-year starter and an all-SMAA pick. “But the 15 kids who haven’t started have played serious minutes. We’ve been playing together for 10 years, easily.”

Diaz and Hagerty attribute their teams’ long-term success to their feeder programs. Both the Scarborough Soccer Club and Yarmouth Colts Soccer Club have been around for more than two decades, and involve some 300 girls and boys.

“We’ve got a good reputation and a great youth program,” Hagerty said, noting that with an enrollment of about 500 students, Yarmouth is smaller than more than half of the Class B schools. “We also have a lot of kids who have goals to play in college.”

For players wanting to continue their soccer careers after graduation, Hagerty said playing for just a high school team isn’t enough anymore. Colleges now focus on club programs such as Global Premier Soccer and Seacoast United as their primary measurement of talent.

“Colleges don’t ask what high school you play for, it’s what premier team do you play for,” Hagerty said. “Before, what high school you played for used to be the cake. Now it’s just the icing.”

And Yarmouth and Scarborough are reaping the benefits. With their players training year round on premier teams, Hagerty and Diaz have scored recipes for lasting success.

“Our tradition has been created by our consistency,” Diaz said. “Young kids want to be a part of this program.”

2016 TEAMS TO WATCH

1. Yarmouth: The two-time defending Class B state champion graduated 15 seniors and seven starters, but the Clippers, as usual, have plenty of players ready to fill the void. Yarmouth lost some of its depth, including three players who have gone on to play in college. But the Clippers return top scorers Luke Groothoff, Henry Coolidge and Matt Dostie.

2. Gorham: The Rams finished the regular season No. 2 in Class A South with a 12-1-1 record before suffering an upset loss to No. 7 Cheverus in the quarterfinals. This year, Gorham has one of the best senior classes in the SMAA. Coach Tim King will count on Jackson Fotter, Ryan Firmin and Tyler Richman to lead the Rams.

3. Scarborough: The Class A South champion lost all but three starters to graduation. But coaches know better than to underestimate the Red Storm, who have 18 seniors on the roster. The returning starters are Garrett King, Noah Stracqualursi and Spencer Pettingill. Replacing Cam Nigro in goal is Chris Franklin, who Coach Mike Diaz said would have started on any other team in previous years.

4. Falmouth: The Yachtsmen have a veteran team with 17 seniors, including John Mullin, Jonah Spiegel, Michael Lydick, Olin Rhoads, Michael Sanzari, Matt Polewaczyk and Jack Scribner. Junior forward Ben Wuesthoff also returns as one of Falmouth’s leading scorers. The Yachtsmen earned a bye in the preliminary round of the playoffs last season with a 10-3-1 record before losing to eventual regional champion Scarborough in the Class A South semifinals.

5. Deering: The Rams have a lot of speed with senior defender Jonata Mbongo and sophomore forward Iessa Ramadan. Deering went 7-6-2 last season and lost 12 seniors and seven starters to graduation. Coach Joel Costigan said the team’s chemistry has improved significantly from previous seasons. Other top returners include seniors Ezra Chapola and junior Robert Ochan.

6. Greely: The Rangers finished last season with a 9-4-3 record, losing to eventual state champ Yarmouth in the Class B South semifinals. Greely graduated its top scorer in Jacob Nason, but the team enters the season with more depth and experience. The Rangers have a strong core of nine returning seniors, including midfielder Hunter Graham.

7. Cape Elizabeth: The Capers have been eliminated from the Class B South playoffs by Yarmouth twice in the last three years, including a quarterfinal loss last fall, but they return their leading scorer, senior forward Connor Thoreck.

8. Waynflete: The Class C South champ beat Monmouth Academy 4-0 in the regional final before losing to Washington Academy 1-0 in overtime in the state championship game. The Flyers lost 10 players to graduation, including goalkeeper Milo Belleau, who notched 12 shutouts. The top returner is junior midfielder Christian Brooks, a strong ball winner who has a good shot.

9. Cheverus: The Stags made it to the Class A South final as the No. 7 seed, where they lost to Scarborough. After graduating two standout players – midfielder Mackenzie Hoglund and defender Andrei Vile – the team will be young. But coaches know better than to discount the 2014 state champion, and expect the Stags to come together in time for the playoffs.

10. Bonny Eagle: The Scots failed to make the Class A South playoffs last season with a 4-8-2 record. But with midfielder Ryan Moody – who scored 27 goals – Bonny Eagle has one of the best players in the SMAA. Coach Larry Robertson said he’s returning a lot of juniors and seniors, and expects Moody to lead the team into the postseason. The Scots also had about 20 freshmen try out this season. The program looks to be on the rise.

– Taylor Vortherms