By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Before the end of September, the Carthage boys soccer team had already matched its win total from the previous season.
A 12-game winning streak to open the season will do that. The Tigers went on to win 17 of their first 18 contests in 2020 and finished with an 18-5 record – the team’s most wins in a season since 2016.
“Just like it was for everybody it was really uncertain the entire year,” head coach Jacob Osborne said. “Everything in general was so different so it was nice to find success in the season. Our kids did a great job of showing up wanting to play. They did a good job not taking it for granted.”
Carthage graduated three players from last year’s squad that earned Central Ozark Conference honors. Angel Ordonez was a first-team pick and Marco Valdez and Jesus Alvarado were second-team selections.
Senior Adrian Garrido is one of several key pieces returning, though. He was another COC first-team honoree and led the team in scoring last season; he’s also the only returning forward. The Tigers return virtually their entire midfield, too, which includes senior Walter Mejia, an honorable mention All-Conference player and junior George Laytham, a first team All-Conference pick.
“I am pretty confident in thinking we’ll have one of the strongest midfields in the area this year,” Osborne said. “Our midfield was a strength for us last year and there’s been improvement there with some of these guys as well.”
Laytham brings size to the position while covering a lot of ground and often stopped an attack before it even reached Carthage’s defense. Osborne said he does a good job anticipating where the ball will be.
“We might give him an opportunity to push up field a little more this year depending on what we end up doing because Walter Mejia is another kid that can play a box to box midfield role but he’s also really good as a defensive midfielder. Those two together can make us very strong defensively.”
The team has three backups in the midfield who Osborne said could start for several teams in the area, highlighting the depth there.
Carthage was dealt a blow defensively with the news that senior Lester Mejia will miss the year with an injury. He’s played varsity soccer since his freshman year. The team also loses sophomore Welle Welle, a forward last season, and sophomore Henry Hernandez, who played right back. Those two will play club soccer in Arkansas this fall.
The Tigers do return junior Kleverzon Paz, who was voted as the team’s defensive player of the year last season, and senior Luis Mejia, a left back. There’s also Dani Morales, a senior who started as a sophomore but missed more than a year with a knee injury. He’s returned healthy and should see time defensively.
Seniors Chris and Clismer Lopez are also returning to the team after not playing last fall. They saw varsity time as sophomores and Chris earned a starting role. He’s more of a defensive player but is versatile and Clismer is more of an attacking player.
“They both bring good speed to our team,” Osborne said.
Sophomore Silas Laytham could be an impact player after leading the junior varsity team in goals last year with more than 20.
“He’s a fast kid, a big kid so he does give us size and speed,” Osborne said. “He’s a kid I do expect to be able to score a lot in the next three years.”
While Carthage loses some goal scorers, Osborne said the roster is deep on the wings and he’s considered tweaking the formation to play to the team’s strengths.
This year’s team will mostly consist of last year’s varsity backups and a few of the top performers from the JV level. The Tigers have close to 50 players out this fall and while Osborne usually has to make cuts, he hopes to keep more players around by setting up a ‘C’ team schedule.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids that have been coming to everything this summer and the distinction between what would be our normal 38th kid and the 45th kid, there’s really not much of a difference and they can all play,” he said. “There’s nobody showing up that doesn’t look like they belong out there. We’re trying to figure out other teams in the area we can potentially have a three-game night with but that’s early in the process.”
Carthage will travel to Joplin for an Aug. 24 jamboree along with Neosho and Monett. The Tigers open the regular season with home games against Branson (Aug. 31) and College Heights/McAuley Catholic (Sept. 2).
Kickapoo returns to the schedule after an absence of a few years; Carthage will also travel to Rockhurst in October.
“I think we’re going to be a good team, I really like our depth,” Osborne said. “We’ve got top to bottom a very talented group but we do have some holes that will need filled. We lost a lot of goals from last year due to graduation and we’re going to have to have some kids that can score some goals for us.”