Veteran Perry boys soccer head coach Gary Overla said there could only be two kinds of players on his 2016 Bluejay squad, and how far the team advances will depend upon which of the two prevails.
“Either you are interested or you are committed,” Overla explained. “If you are interested, then you will want to win and hope we do but you are not willing to do everything it takes to make that happen. If you are committed, then you will except nothing but the best results. So the question I asked the guys was ‘Which kind of player are you? Interested or committed?’ Our season will come down to which answer they give, because the talent is there, it is the commitment that is needed.”
Perry is coming off consecutive appearances in the Class 2A State Tournament. Perry dropped a tough 1-0 title game contest to Norwalk in 2014 and last year was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Central DeWitt. The 2-1 loss to the Sabers was only the second time since April 11, 2014 that the Bluejays allowed more than one goal in regulation.
The Bluejay defense was the leading unit in the state last year, yielding just .236 goals in regulation per game. A key component of the the defense was goalie Jorge Soto, who has graduated.
The job now likely belongs to Anthony Aragon, but the sophomore will have plenty of talented and experienced help in front of him, as central defenders Ian Velasco returns, along with Miguel Gonzalez, while Geoffry Gutierrez and Alex Macias man the wing defender spots.
Experience returns in the midfield as well, as David Cardenas and Alvaro Soto will make Perry tough up the middle again this year, with Chance Webster and Ivan Garcia on the outside.
German Alvarenga will be given the nod at attacking midfielder, with Jesus Rodriguez at striker, with Javier Miranda spelling in relief.
“We will be moving guys in-and-out as needed to stay fresh, but our conditioning is something we have always prided ourselves on,” Overla said. “We are never going to be the biggest or most physical team, but we should be at least as fast as everyone else and faster than most. In the past we have had success by wearing the other guy down and frustrating their offense, and I expect that to continue.”
Perry scored 51 goals on 31 assists last year while yielding only seven scores. The Jays were 10-of-13 on penalty kicks as well. Returning to the lineup will be players responsible for 46 of the 51 Bluejay goals and 25 of the 31 assists.
Rodriguez had 19 goals and five assists in 2015, with Garcia (9-8) and Alvarenga (8-3) also constant scoring threats. Soto (3-4), Cardenas (2-2), Miranda (three goals), Velasco (one goal), Webster (two assists) and Fernando Catalan (one assist) also had their feet in the attack.
“I think we can be fairly dynamic offensively,” Overla said. “Obviously with Jesus and Ivan and German we have guys who can score at any time, but they are not the only ones who can put the ball in the net. I would like to see us score more this year and I am expecting that we will.
“There were some times last year when either we stood around waiting for one of the so-called ‘scorers’ to put the ball away or else we tried to get too cute with the ball,” he continued. “I want to see us taking more shots. Some shots are, of course, better than others, but any shot on goal is a good one and I want to see more of them.”
Brandon Juarez, Ronal Menendez, Trever Clark and Catalan will also play roles for the Bluejays.
“We saw last year, when guys went down, how important it is for everyone to be ready to step in at any time,” Overla said. “There may be 11 guys on the field, but this is a team sport, and no one is going to do this by themselves.”
Perry was 16-4 overall and won the Raccoon River Conference outright for the second time in three years. Overall said the team had definite goals but that those would have to be taken in order and with equal seriousness.
“First things first, which is to win the conference,” he said. “We have to make sure we do not lose our focus through the season. If we want to have another first round bye in the playoffs and have games at home, we have to earn those every time out. The guys need to understand that everyone is going to give us their best effort every match, and if we let up we could find ourselves facing a more difficult path in the playoffs.”
The Bluejays open their season Saturday when they host the inaugural Perry Tournament at Dewey Field. Perry plays Des Moines North at 9 a.m., with Southeast Polk facing Lewis Central at 10:30 a.m. and SEP battling DM North at 12 p.m. Perry takes on Lewis Central at 1:30 p.m., with DM North and Lewis Central playing at 3 p.m. before Perry squares off with SEP in the tourney finale at 4:30 p.m.
Perry is in action three times next week, hosting Winterset Tuesday and Carlisle Thursday before traveling to Des Moines Hoover Friday.