Short on experience but long on potential, Kansas City Kansas Community College's men's soccer kicks off the fall season Monday, Aug. 22.
The Blue Devils will open at Blue River in Independence at 8 p.m. Monday before returning home Tuesday for an exhibition against Ottawa University at 6 p.m. The official home opener won't come until Thursday, Sept. 8, when KCKCC entertains Cowley County.
With the early start to the season, the biggest job facing head coach Ruben Rodriguez and assistant Burke Slusher will be putting the best 11 players on the field. "It's a very competitive team, competitive at every position," says Rodriguez, who is in his fifth season as head coach.
"We want to go farther than last year when we made it to the playoffs and have brought in players that we feel will make us stronger than a year ago," adds Slusher, who is in his third year as assistant. Fifteen members of the 24-man squad are Kansas graduates including seven from J.C. Harmon High School, five from Wichita and one each from Turner, Derby and SM North.
Just seven sophomores return from a year ago – midfielders Jesus Galvan and Mario Sandoval, both of Harmon; Tanner Helms of Ashland, MO.; and Thiago Elias of Sao Paulo, Brazil; defenders Jake Salmons of Ashland, MO. and David Jones of Turner and goalkeeper Kenneth Herron of SM North. In addition, Harmon midfielder Giovanni Calderon returns after a redshirt season while forward Connell Silmon is a transfer from Wichita South.
The battle for starting berths starts at goalkeeper where Herron is being challenged by a pair of freshmen, Alec Lakin and Cade Brown, both of Wichita Maize. There's also a four-way battle at the forward position between Silmon and freshmen Alejandro Madrigal of Harmon, Connor Holmes of Wichita Maize and Hiago Gaspar of Sao Paulo.
Midfield will be solid with the return of veterans Galvan, Helms and Sandoval along with promising freshman newcomers Juan Zavala of Harmon, Brajan Huyke of Barran Quilla, Columbia,and Guilherma Grave of San Paulo. "That's our strength because of our returning experience and the incoming freshmen, most of who have played club ball," says Rodriguez. More midfield help could come from freshmen Luke Matson of Harmon and Pa Ousman Jobe of Woonsocket, R.I.
Teams in the Jayhawk Conference have adopted a new schedule for 2016 with each team playing a home-and-home slate. The other five members of the conference are Johnson County, Allen County, Cowley, Coffeyville and Neosho County
While in his fifth season as head men's coach, Rodriguez has been an instrumental part of the KCKCC soccer program since 2007, starting the KCKCC women's program in 2012. A 20-year officer with the KCK Police Department, Rodriguez has nearly 40 years of experience as a player and coach, working with club, men's and college teams.
A former assistant coach at William Jewell College, Slusher had more than 20 years of coaching and playing experience. A graduate of North Kansas City High School and Missouri State University, Slusher has coached at several levels of youth soccer and served as talent evaluator for Sporting KC and FC Kansas City open tryouts.