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Cobras Soccer reloading for fall season

Sports Writer

Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 11:03

Soccer

Illustration by Tuma/Chicago Tribune/MCT

The Parkland Cobras men's soccer team is looking to continue building the program to an elite level with this year's recruiting class. The coaching staff is very excited about the additions to the team for this coming fall.

One tool used in the recruiting process is the current success of the program and the direction it is headed. The Cobras finished with a record of 10-9-1 last season, which was a one game improvement in the win column over last year.

Head coach Mark Sikora also had four players earn All-Region and All-Conference honors. Freshman forward Dhani Cerra was selected to the All-Conference and All-Region first team. Douglas Andrade, Ben Flodstrom, and Gregg Flores were Second Team All Conference.

The Cobras will be without the talent of Cerra this fall. The team's leader in goals and assists last season has left early. Other early departures include Raul Acosta and Rosendo Mendoza.

The team also had nine sophomores on last year's roster including Andy Reutiman, who has committed to the University of Illinois at Springfield. These losses have meant that the coaching staff has been busy at work to rebuild this roster and put the Cobras in contention nationally.

Sikora had a very positive response when asked how he would rate this group. "All signs are pointing to a strong rating with players from a geographically diverse area… from Wales, Brazil, Marion, Chicago, and as close as Danville," Sikora said. "All with a strong soccer background in high school and top club programs."

One such player background is Luke O'Neill of Marion High School. "He is a gritty competitor that could play multiple positions for us," Sikora said.

That grit and versatility is what earned O'Neill 2012 MVP of the South Seven Conference and 2012 MVP of the Marion Wildcats. During his high school career, he helped lead the Wildcats to three IHSA Regional Championships and two South Seven Conference Titles.

Last year's group had an array of international talent. Sikora is looking to continue this trend. Yuri Oliveira of Brazil will attempt to contribute right away. Described as talented and massive, his goalkeeping abilities will be put to the test with the departure of Mendoza and the loss of sophomore goalkeeper Jason Saucedo.

Added to the international mix is Samuel Balla from Cimla, Wales. Balla was a central midfielder and team captain for Afan Lido Football Club last year. Afan Lido FC is a member of the Welsh Premier League, which plays both professionally and semi-professionally. His experience will be appreciated even as he transitions to the American style of play.

Talent is very important when recruiting players, but coaches also acknowledge that chemistry is just as important. "Obviously, we are looking for solid impact players but they also have to fit into a program and enhance, not destroy what we are trying to build," Sikora said.

Fitting that mold are three players from Morton High School, who will be bringing their talents to Parkland College. First is Daniel Vargas. Morton's team captain helped lead his team to the 3A State Championship. Next is Alonso Torres. He recorded 18 goals and had five assists in his senior season and had the winning assist in overtime of the 3A State Championship game. The last of the group is Elias Salgado, who allowed a total of one goal during the semi-final and championship matches combined.

Rounding out this recruiting class is Zachary Downing. Downing played central defender and midfielder for Danville High School a season ago. As team captain he received a 2012 IHSSCA All-Sectional selection.

This class is experienced and talented, but they are still freshman. "This group should be stronger than last year's group but they will struggle like most freshmen with the demands of college athletics," Sikora stated. Nonetheless, expectations are high for this team next year.

"We want to be competitive in every match, regardless of the competition," Sikora explained. This will not be solely the responsibility of the incoming freshman. The head coach has returning players he believes will be major contributors.

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