Opportunity may very well end up being the key word for the 2017 Park University men's soccer team as a number of new faces will be counted on to step in from the opening kickoff on Sunday, August 27 against Central Methodist and contribute.
While it is never easy to see key members of any program move on after completing their collegiate careers, those vacancies provide opportunities for new players to seize and build their own legacy.
"We lost five starters from last year's team, and they were important players who did a lot for our program," said head coach Efrem Shimlis, who begins his 17th season overall at his alma mater. "We do have five seniors who either started every game or played a significant role returning, but we need a lot of the transfers and freshmen to step up."
The veterans in the team are spread across the positional landscape, leaving opportunity for players to stake their claim at every position.
Junior Thalu Masindi (JR/London, England) returns as the veteran in between the pipes for the Pirates. He started 15 matches last season and posted a 1.83 goals against average, recording 52 saves. Three players will be pressing for an opportunity to play in junior Luis Torres (JR/Belton, Mo.), sophomore Peyton LaFerla (SO/Kansas City, Mo.) and freshman Ian Carver (FR/Kansas City, Mo.).
The anchor of the Park backline will be senior Donovan Morgan (SR/May Pen, Jamaica), who started nine matches in his 11 appearances last season. Team captain this season, Morgan's experience will be vital early on for the Pirates as they look to usher in several new starters on the back line. Among the newcomers battling for time in front of Masindi will be sophomore Cristobal Rojas (SO/Santiago, Chile), junior Jesse Jasso (JR/Kansas City, Mo.), freshman Rodrigo Lima (FR/Campinas, Brazil) and freshman Joao Moreira (FR/Niteroi, Brazil).
The biggest holes to fill will likely come in midfield as Shimlis must fill the boots of departed seniors Tim Kloster and Rodolfo Lopes. The Pirates must also wait on the return of senior Nicolas Andre (SR/Campo Limpo Paulista, Brazil), who will begin the season recovering from injury. However, Shimlis is optimistic about the potential of several newcomers. Junior Juan Carlos Salazar (JR/Bogota, Colombia) is a transfer from Laredo CC, while junior Bernardo Badillo-Garcia (JR/Las Vegas, Nev.) makes his way to Parkville after two seasons at MCC-Maple Woods. A pair of transfers from Missouri State are also expected to be in the mix in the middle of the park in freshmen Rafael Pinheiro (JR/Lee's Summit, Mo.) and Darby Cronin (FR/Lee's Summit, Mo.).
A place where the Pirates will likely have some depth is across the front led by returning senior Daniel Jackson (SR/Nottingham, England). He started 11 of 16 games last season, netting three goals and two assists that saw his goals come in the final four games. Senior Isaias De La Torre (SR/Dodge City, Kan.) makes the move from the back to the front this season to give the Pirates an imposing presence in the box, while senior Pedro De Souza (SR/Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) has scored 12 goals in 21 career games and should provide additional depth in the attacking third.
The Pirates enter 2017 coming off a strong finish to the 2016 campaign that saw five wins in six matches to conclude the regular season. Shimlis recognizes that accomplishment, but won't be counting on that heading into the season opener.
"(Finishing well) is something we have always done here at Park. But, I don't believe how we finished last year will have anything to do with this year. We have 23 new players on the team, and the boys are working hard, but we have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to be and have another strong finish."
The non-conference schedule is expected to provide the kind of opportunity that Shimlis values, especially with so many new pieces to integrate into his roster puzzle. The Pirates play three of those five games at Julian Field, where the team owns 17 victories over the last three seasons. The five opportunities prior to the American Midwest Conference opener on Sept. 13 at St. Louis College of Pharmacy will each be important for the result, but also to have needed time together on the field.
"With such a big number of new players on the team, chemistry is something that is going to take time and we are hoping the new few games are going to help us to build that chemistry. The boys are putting in the work and they are eager to start."
Two trips to St. Louis sandwiched around a pair of home fixtures highlight the first four of 11 conference matches for the Pirates. The regular season finishes with a pair of home contests, including a Senior Day tilt with Freed-Hardeman on Oct. 28. The Pirates will hope to secure a top seed in the AMC Men's Soccer Championship, which begins on Saturday, November 4 and concludes six days later.