The Carthage Tigers

2012 Carthage District ChampionsThere were two teams from Southwest Missouri who reached the Final 4 this year. The now two-time State Champion Springfield Catholic squad (congrats!) in Class 1 and the Carthage Tigers, who lost 2-1 to the St Dominic Crusaders in the Class 2 Final.

From the day I began following the game in Southwest Missouri, in the Fall of 2002 when my nephew was the stopper for the Glendale Falcons, the Tiger’s were a regular feature, coming off their first District title in 2002 and then again in 2004 when the team advanced to the Final 4 in the Small School category. They had one player traveling to Springfield during that timeframe to compete in Club soccer with Springfield SC. Nick Pfeiffer went on to play D2 soccer and came back as an assistant coach with the High School team.

Head Coach Jacob Osborne also played for the Tigers, earning Honorable Mention Southwest Region his senior year (2001-2002) while scoring 14 goals and dishing out 10 assists. Since then the squad has won District titles every year since 2008, the first two under Chris Rogers and the last three four under Coach Osborne who graduates his first group of four year players at Carthage.

The team in many respects is a microcosm of what is happening with the American game. Featured last year on ESPN (video below) for being a 100% Hispanic team in a town that is 70% white, they were ‘discovered’ because of their run to the Missouri Quarterfinals that ended in a loss to Rock Bridge, at Rock Bridge in 2010. If you read the Class 2 Final 4 preview by Mike Howard, the Rock Bridge coach share with Mike that the Bruins benefited from the home field advantage in that 1-0 win. The Tigers featured two Caucasian senior Captains that season, including Joe Curti who is playing in Leeds, UK.

The point being that the Tigers have had to integrate players and playing styles in order to be successful on the larger stage. They have achieved that regionally and they introduced themselves to the State with their win against Lutheran South with an attractive, high paced game that creates goals. The loss against St Dominic, a team whose only losses except 1 came to top Class 3 programs in St Louis, while disappointing can also be looked at in the bigger picture as another step towards reaching the ultimate goal. Teams that want to be successful must play difficult schedules that help a program identify weaknesses and prepare them to achieve under the ultimate pressure of playoff soccer. It’s nice to rack up wins but when measured against losing in a District semifinal or moving on, which would you rather achieve?

With that in mind, I asked Coach Osborne to share his thoughts on the past season and give us a small peek at what to expect in 2013. Here are his words:

Since we lost nine seniors from 2011 some area previews written about our team described the upcoming season as a “year in transition”, but the team had high hopes coming into the season. At the first varsity practice of the season we sat down and talked about what our team goals were. Every player said they wanted to go to the Final Four. Even though we only had a small group of returning players, they were a great group. I was also excited about some of the new players that were coming in from JV. I thought that we would probably struggle a little bit early in the season and we would probably be inconsistent, but I thought we had a good chance of becoming pretty dangerous by the end of the season. It really did play out that way. Early on we showed flashes of the team that we could become, but there were certain aspects of our game that were missing.

Our attack was dangerous from the start of the year, but our defense took some work to get things to where they needed to be. Jessy Alvarado (Class of 2015) and Miguel Henriquez (Class of 2014) were both players that were converted from the midfield to the defense and once they got comfortable in the back, that’s when we became solid all over the field. A turning point for our season was around the Kickapoo tournament. That weekend everything finally started to click for us. I knew that we weren’t there yet, but that’s when I saw signs of us becoming the team that we hoped we would become.

All year we knew that to achieve our goals we were going to have to beat Rolla. They had a great season and came into our game as the favorite. I was concerned with their size and being able to contain Froehlich. It was a hard fought game, but I can’t say enough about how our players were able to step up to the challenge. They are such competitors and play with a lot of heart. The team played outstanding defense the entire day were able to contain Froehlich. Even though Rolla was taller and bigger at nearly every position, our players weren’t intimidated by their size and were able to win most of the balls in the air due to our desire. We also did a great job of using our speed advantage to hard press all over the field. We didn’t want them to ever get comfortable.

Whenever I read a few scouting reports on Lutheran South, I was happy to see that they played a similar style to Rolla and I knew that they liked to use their size advantage. We figured we would have the speed advantage again and wanted to carry over the same game plan. It played out pretty similar to the Rolla game. Against St. Dominic we knew that they would again have the size advantage, but they also were able to match our speed. They do such a great job of possessing the ball that we knew we would have to rely on the counter-attack. We played extremely hard and put up a good fight, but fell short.

The second place finish is the best finish in Carthage soccer history.

2012 Carthage Seniors
Back row, left to right is Misael Maturino, Jose Delval, Victor Lopez, and Ismael Serratos. Front row is Erik Estrada and Oscar Castro.
The leaders of our team were without a doubt our senior class. We had six seniors this year. Four of them were starters and a big part of what we did. This group is one of the best and most successful groups that we’ve had come through our program and they were led by Ismael Serratos.

Ismael is a special player. He’s a great finisher and he plays every game extremely hard. When your best player is your hardest worker it makes it very easy to get other players to follow suit. Ismael set the career scoring record in the second game of the season when he scored his 64th career goal. He finished the season scoring 34 goals to give him a total of 95 for his career. Misael Maturino has been a starter in the defense since he was a freshman. He was the leader in the back and did a great job of helping the new defensive players get things figured out. The role that he played in the final few games of the season cannot be overstated. Lastly, Victor Lopez and Erik Estrada were our starting center-mids. They both do a great job of moving the ball. Victor set the career assist record this season when he recorded the 35th assist of his career and he finished his career with 43 assists. Erik was one of our smallest players, but he was a tireless worker and he played with a huge heart. This group will be greatly missed.

They left a great example to the underclassmen in how they approached the game.

We’ll have 7 starters returning for next season. Our offense will be led by Victor Marin (Class of 2015) and Hector Marin (Class of 2016). These are Ismael Serratos’ younger brothers. They had 29 goals and 16 assists between the two of them this season. Along with the previously mentioned underclassmen defenders we’ll have a solid group of Juniors returning led by Jose Alberto (GK), Henry Oxlaj (MF) and Mario Zuniga (DF).

There you have it folks. A program with five straight District titles, a Quarterfinalist and Finalist in two of those years and a team with seven returning starters. Only one program in Southwest Missouri has achieved at a higher level. Well done lads.