By PATRICK MacCOON
The world’s most popular sport has seen great growth in the Cleveland community over the past decade.When John Brose first took over in 2007 as Cleveland High School’s men’s head soccer coach, …
The world’s most popular sport has seen great growth in the Cleveland community over the past decade.
When John Brose first took over in 2007 as Cleveland High School’s men’s head soccer coach, there were 30 members in the program.
Over Brose’s first 11 seasons, the Blue Raiders have had great success winning six district and four region championships to go along with three state appearances.
Now, the powerful program only continues the upward trend with 60 players in the program over the course of three teams.
“I came into a really good program to begin with that had a solid foundation already,” said Brose, who is 144-67-22 overall with CHS “Even going back to 1986, the first soccer team this school ever had, Cleveland won a state championship.
“I took over for a great coach in Rick Adolph, who is now down at Ooltewah. We’ve been able to keep things rolling and have witnessed tremendous growth in the sport.”
The Blue Raiders were at one of their all-time bests this past season on the pitch, setting a new program record with 21 wins.
CHS’s only loss came in the state quarterfinals to No. 1 ranked Science Hill, which would lose to Station Camp in the Class AAA finals match.
“Our program has set an expectation year in and year out that we should compete right at the top,” Brose said. “However, each year a new group must figure out how to reach their full potential. Our 2018 team has a lot of talent, but plenty of room to mature and grow as a team.”
The state’s fourth-ranked program brings only four players back who saw significant action on last year’s squad, one which outscored District 5-AAA competition 28-2 overall, shut out a power in Cookeville for the Region 3-AAA title and knocked off Oakland in the final minutes of regulation for a state tournament berth.
Still, plenty of talent is among the roster for the Blue Raiders, who begin the season at home Tuesday against a now non-district foe in Soddy-Daisy.
East Hamilton also has left District 5-AAA, which is down to five teams.
“I really think the strength of the team is at the center of the field this year with junior midfielders Casey Beck and Brian Ordonez,” Brose said. “They are the foundation of our team this year.”
With a sweet touch and accurate boot that often found teammates for scores off headers on a free/corner kick, Beck finished with a dozen assists in a breakout season.
He and Ordonez will look to help control the ball and create breakaways for their teammates while having a green light to attack downfield too at the right moment.
“Casey has always been 'Mr. Consistent' for us,” Brose said. “We are trying to push him a little bit more to be a guy that steps up on the attacking third of the field too. We are going to have to find several guys to replace Tommy (Marino) and Jordan (Lopez), who were phenomenal last season scoring for us.”
Lopez finished one goal shy of tying the school’s record of 24 goals, while Marino pounded out 21 goals and all three in the sub-state victory over Oakland. The 44 goals between the two were a record between two teammates, and most in CHS history.
Brose expects the scoring to be more spread around for the Blue Raiders, who lost all three of their top scorers from last season.
“Yvan Salinas received some big minutes off the bench for us as a freshman. He is primed to have a good year and pick up some of the scoring load,” CHS’s sideline leader said.
“We have a junior in Javier Pineda who has a knack for scoring goals. We feel like we have five or six guys who can score. Sophomore Elias Lemus is someone else who can find the back net as well.”
After back-to-back trips to the state tournament (in 2008 and 2009) the Blue Raiders reached the highly sought after field of eight teams last season, thanks to stellar defense as well.
Three with valuable experience returning to the defensive side, which allowed 21 goals in 25 contests, are senior captains Logan Stutzman and Juan Flores, along with Julio Gallegos.
Flores has excelled in the preseason and is expected to be a big-time stopper in front of the net this season.
Cleveland has won back-to-back district titles and 21 straight regular season games against league opponents.
The Blue Raiders will jump straight into action with seven contests in the first 12 days of the season, as they will look to defend their title in the Smoky Mountain Classic as well as the 10th annual Cleveland Classic (March 22-24).
CHS won its own classic for the first time last season, and will bring in 16 teams this year, which is second most in its history.
A defending state champion in Oak Mountain, Alabama, was the lone team to beat McCallie last season, and will visit the Mouse Creek Soccer Complex in Cleveland on Saturday, April 7, at 1 p.m.
“With us having a young team, I think the tough schedule will only make us stronger in the long run,” Brose said. “We want to be primed to make a strong push in the postseason again.”
With eight juniors and seven sophomores on the varsity roster of 20, youth will have to help lead the way as well this season.
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