By Tyler Thompson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The McDonald County Mustangs boys soccer team is looking for a special ingredient this season.
And they may not have to look beyond their own returning core.
Head coach John de la Torre is in his second season at the helm for the Mustangs — who play in the Big 8 Conference: aligning itself with the likes of Cassville, East Newton, Lamar, Monett, Nevada, Seneca, and Catholic.
The team graduated four players (Ulizes Lazaro, Jose Valdez, Robin Bail, and Francisco Jasso) off from last year’s team and lost three others to transfer.
The Mustangs authored an 8-8-1 record in ‘18, falling 3-1 to Neosho at the 2018 Class 3 District 12 Tournament.
Facing the aforementioned conference talent is being looked upon as a building block for de la Torre and company in Year Two.
“Cassville and Monett are the two of the strongest teams; not only in our conference but in the area,” de la Torre said. “To be able to play against those guys, [it] really gives us a lot of good experience. And those teams like Marshfield and Rogersville (both in Big 8 East), they have really stepped up their games the past couple of years, so it is really a wide open conference year in and year out.”
Experience and facing stiff regular-season competition look to pay dividends this fall, as all-district senior players Eh Doh Say (first team), Jeobany Marcos (first team), and Jaw Soe (second team) all return to the pitch this fall: giving the Mustangs a nice 1-2-3 punch.
Say and Marcos combined for 24 goals last season, Irael Marcos led the team in assists (4), as the Mustangs closed out the ’18 campaign with 41 goals and 19 assists.
With four returning all-conference players in [Jeobany] Marcos (first team), Say (second team), Soe (honorable mention) and Carlos Marcos (honorable mention) back in the fold, the Mustangs core is ready to roll.
As for the conference, de la Torre said it’s the primer for postseason play.
“It [conference] gets to where we can’t relax any,” de la Torre said.
Of course, it’s tough to relax when your goalkeeper commands the field with a positive, authoritative presence.
Senior Arturo Morales snared 72 saves last season in 16 games (an average of 4 1/2 per game), and de la Torre said Morales continues to impress: no matter if it’s a scrimmage or postseason game.
The versatile senior gives the opposition a little more to ponder when formulating game plans.
“He is one of the biggest and best leaders we have. He is a really outgoing person who brings a lot of comedy when things are down,” de la Torre said. “But he knows when to be serious. He is a mediator between a lot of people. He is a presence we will miss after this year.”
With a veteran core returning, and upperclassmen making the jump from junior varsity, de la Torre said the balance makes this season ripe for the taking.
“We have seen a lot of upperclassmen who played junior varsity last year really step it up and impress us this offseason,” de la Torre said. “And we have had a good number of freshmen come out, and that has really helped the level from where it was last year.”
So far, five or six freshmen have been present throughout the summer, but more are around the corner.
Added de la Torre: “We have more coming once school starts.”
The Mustangs are scheduled for the Cassville Soccer Classic (Sept. 3-7).
The home opener is Sept. 10 against College Heights Christian.