By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The past three years have been the golden era of Branson soccer.
Branson had its best season ever in 2019, finishing 19-6 overall. The Pirates also surpassed the 15-win mark for the third straight season.
The highlight: A milestone win over Nixa in districts (2-1). Branson had gone 0-16 against the Eagles all-time.
Branson also tallied 111 goals for the season (nearly 4.5 per match) – a program record. It was the second straight season that Branson set a program record for goals.
While Branson graduated a lot of offensive production, coach Dave Brenner said the Pirates should again field a strong attack.
“We intend to take advantage of the ability our front line has to pressure the other team,” he said. “We feel that our front line has the ability to score similar to the attack we had last season.”
Branson returns a pair of experienced seniors in forward/wing Diego Paz and defender Alex Brenner. Paz tallied four goals and eight assists last season.
“Diego was a quiet leader the last two seasons and we’ll depend on him to step up this season on the front line,” Brenner said.
Alex Brenner (three assists) has two years of varsity experience as a left back.
“We expect (Alex) to be a key part of our backline,” Dave Brenner said. “We always pride ourselves on defense. That’s where we start every season.”
Junior goalkeeper Pilot Ascone registered 45 saves and six shutouts last season. He’s poised for a big 2020 campaign.
“This offseason, (Ascone) has dedicated himself to becoming a top-level goalkeeper,” Dave Brenner said.
Junior forward Carlton Epps (26 goals, eight assists) is Branson’s top returning scorer. He was the young gun of a trio that accounted for 78 of Branson’s 111 goals last season.
“He really stepped up as a sophomore and was a key in our offense,” Dave Brenner said. “This season, we expect him to continue raising his totals.”
Expect returning junior forward/wing Brayan Barboza to have a bigger role in the offense as well.
“Brayan is a tireless wing with the pace to put pressure on a backline,” Dave Brenner said.
Branson will have some big shoes to fill after graduating roughly 46 percent of its goal scoring from last season’s team.
The Pirates graduated a small but excellent senior class that included Class 4 first team all-state selection Kyle Sutton, along with all-conference honorees Garrett Wicker and Cris Abarca.
Sutton (37 goals, 16 assists) and Abarca (15 goals, 11 assists), along with Epps, led the bulk of Branson’s offensive production.
Both are continuing their soccer careers collegiately – Sutton at Lipscomb (Tenn.) University and Abarca at Crowder Community College.
Sutton leaves as Branson’s all-time leader in career goals (76) and assists (37).
Expect the senior trio of Sam Seitz, Kerry Chapman and Connor Hill to move up in Branson’s main playing rotation.
“They have all patiently waited their time and will (play) important minutes for us,” Dave Brenner said.
Houston Myer is a sophomore with a lot of potential. He’ll take over at center back for Wicker.
“Houston’s grown physically and as a soccer player in the offseason,” Brenner said. “He’s ready for the next step in his career.”
With the likes of Sutton and Abarca gone, the Pirates are eager to see which players step up as new leaders.
“We have a lot of people who have been waiting to be leaders and we look forward to them having their opportunity,” Dave Brenner said. “The nature of high school soccer is that someone gets an opportunity to surprise themselves every season.”
Branson hosts a jamboree with Bolivar, Camdenton and Lebanon on August 24. The Pirates then host Carthage on September 1 for their regular season opener.
The Pirates are anxious to get started.
“Our players have done everything we have asked of them (in the offseason) to stay ready for when we return,” Dave Brenner said. “That’s what makes this the most anticipated season I can remember.”