Boys soccer preview: Freshmen phenoms fuel Falcons' fervor for fine finish
They might get knocked off the ball a time or four during practice against their much more practiced, weathered veteran teammates. They might need to “toughen up” a bit against them, as coach Steve Boyd is wont to say about his up-and-coming freshmen.
But these first-year high school players are by no means new to soccer, says the coach of reigning Far East Division I and Korea Blue tournament champion Seoul American.
Thanks to youth and club programs on and off base that have had many of these non-neophytes playing soccer year-round, freshmen such as David Brown, Benjamin Nagy and Grant Fitts arrived for the first practice with plenty of talent, if not in-season battle testing.
“They have some skills and things they can contribute” to the Falcons, Boyd said. “It gives us depth. It’s just a matter of how much they develop. They have raw talent; they just haven’t had competition.”
They’ll get that starting Saturday at home, when the Falcons face Chadwick International in a non-league contest that precedes their league-opening road trip March 18 at Taejon Christian and March 19 at Daegu.
Though the Falcons – who have won two D-I championships in four years, both against Kubasaki – bid farewell to two major weapons in HoKyong Adkins and David Neaverth, plenty remain in the cupboard for another run in addition to the influx of freshmen.
Junior Andrew Nutter takes over for Adkins up front, striker Kevin McGuire returns as does midfielder Niko Russey, while Nick Gagnet, John Dunleavy and Julian Ruiz, all seniors, and junior Kevin Hwang anchor a veteran defense. Senior newcomer Chaz Perrymany plays offensive mid.
Should the freshmen provide some spark, the Falcons might pick up where they left off last season. “It makes my job a little easier, to say the least,” Boyd said.
But the Falcons could face stern opposition in what promises to be a competitive D-I tournament, which this year moves from Kadena to Kubasaki.
The Dragons, who have finished second the last two years, return a veteran-laden squad with scoring firepower in seniors Imani Washington, Mike Mahlock and Will Wagner, among others.
“We’re still working on settling on a goalkeeper; the rest looks solid,” new Kubasaki coach Tony Washington said; he also has freshmen who have played before. “If the kids coming in can gel with the kids coming back … that’s going to determine it, how good the chemistry is.”
Kadena could also have some say in things, with All-Far East vets Junta Callahan and Diego Rodriguez back in the fold. But junior mid Gabe Peredo at this point is due to leave in May, before Far East. Senior Kyle Freaney returns to Kadena from RAF Lakenheath.
Meanwhile, four-time defending Division II champion Matthew C. Perry also benefits from an incoming freshman – Kai Lange, the younger son of longtime Samurai coach Mark Lange. Kai will play midfield and forward.
Though veterans such as Justin Hill and Payton Fowler have departed, the Samurai are loaded with scoring power in returners Tyson Moore – last year’s D-II Golden Boot winner – plus Vincent Ermitano and Aidan Lewis. Replacing keeper Jarell Davis might be tough.
D-II runner-up and DODEA Japan champion Zama also has some replacing to do, in Pacific-leading goal-scorer Malik Wilkes (40 goals), now playing for Tokyo Verde, a Japanese club. Roman Duarte returns to anchor the middle; Jarrek Cruz transfers in from Humphreys.
Most of the rest of D-II appears to be rebuilding, with three of seven D-II teams bringing in new coaches, though Mark Constantine is returning to E.J. King’s helm after one season off.
Daegu appears to be most promising out of Korea, with the addition of Guam varsity veteran Mitchel Champaco. Robert Kenny, who assisted the Warrior girls last year, takes the boys varsity helm. Junior Tim Davis is Osan’s most accomplished returning scoring weapon.