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Soccer: Worthington 18U team loves a good challenge

Head coach Jose Euceda (far right) greets his soccer players as they wrap ankles before an 18U practice at Buss Field. Players are (from left) Anthony Euceda, Edwin Hemandez, Jonathon Keodouangsy, Mooday Wah and Benjamin Lopez. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)1 / 3
Jesus Bahena Herrera kicks a pass during practice drills for 18U soccer at Buss Field. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)2 / 3
Edwin Hemandez warms up before practice at Buss Field as a smiling Jon Keodouangsy (10) stands guard. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)3 / 3

WORTHINGTON -- Most of the players on the local 18U soccer team have grown accustomed to winning.

But they also love a challenge. And that’s why they’ve chosen not to participate this year in the summer state tournament.

Instead, the Worthington 18-and-under boys are planning to play next month in the Schwan’s USA Cup in Blaine, where youth teams from all over the world meet each year to test their mettle. There will be teams not only from America, but also from Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Portugal, Wales, Laos … “Any country you can think of,” said Jon Keodouangsy, a member of the Worthington 18U squad.

“We’ve been to state so many times, and we won it easily. And we wanted a challenge,” explained Keodouangsy, who led all Minnesota high school players in scoring last fall as a junior on the state-qualifying Trojans boys soccer team.

No doubt about it -- the boys on the summer team aren’t afraid of competition.

“That’s what I like about them,” said their summer coach, Jose Euceda. “That’s what the kids want. They want to try. And maybe they can learn something.”

Worthington’s 18U summer squad took a 7-0-1 record into this weekend’s big tournament in Burnsville where they’re being exposed to some of the top 18U teams in the state. But the better the opponent, the more opportunities there are to learn.

There are 21 players on Euceda’s summer squad, including many who led the high school team to its most successful season ever. Keodouangsy, who will be a senior at WHS next fall, is one of the leaders. Another is superlative defender Chris Cerda, who also has one more year of eligibility remaining with the Trojans. Other summer stars include Edwin Hernandez, Sander Diaz and the son of the coach, Anthony Euceda. Former Worthingtonian Mooday Wah, who’ll play for Austin next high school season, is also playing for the 18U team.

Worthington is winning this summer despite moving up to the C1 level, which is just one step below the premier division. It allows the locals to play bigger programs in the Twin Cities area.

“And they can do it. We got the team. They’re showing us they can play at a high level,” said Coach Euceda. “They’ve been together for so many years.”

Euceda believes his players are successful for many reasons, but perhaps the most important reason is that they’ve been playing together for so long.

“They’ve been playing together since they were 8 or 9 years old,” said the coach, who related a story.

“Last night (after a game) we stopped at Madelia. And Mooday said to Anthony, ‘Remember when we played here about 10 years ago?’ And Anthony said, ‘Yeah, I still remember that.’”

Anthony, said Jose, even remembered an incident in Madelia -- when someone kicked him during a game.

Smart and fast

But there’s more to the Worthington teen-agers than the familiarity they share with each other. They’re very intelligent soccer players. And they’re quick.

“They know when somebody moves from midfield to forward when to pass the ball -- the perfect time to do it,” said Coach Euceda, who calls Keodouangsy and Eh Kyoo the quickest players on his quick team.

Diaz, who teams with Ben Lopez to provide the 18U team with exceptional goalkeeper play, plans to play at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in the fall. “He talks to his defense,” said Coach Euceda.

Cerda said he likes summer soccer because he gets to play with his friends again after a pressure-packed fall campaign. The players get to work on new styles of play.

In the fall, the Trojans worked from the wings inside in their desire to score goals quickly under head coach Smitty Ektnitphong, who retired in the offseason. In the summer, said Cerda, there’s more of an emphasis on working from the inside out because there’s no pressure to rush into quick goal-scoring opportunities.

Basically, the emphasis in the summer is more relaxed than in the fall.

“For me, the difference between the summer and the fall is that, during the 18U season, we want to win but there’s not so much pressure. But in the high school season, everything is more serious. One or two losses can knock us out to a low seed in the section.”

Keodouangsy, too, appreciates the looser style of summer play. He knows, however, that next fall he’ll be a marked man.

“It’s going to be harder, not only with the new coach but the new formation. I heard there’s going to be a new formation in high school. I heard that I’m going to be the lone striker, but there’s going to be two other people behind me. Last year (in high school), I had another striker beside me,” he said.

Fortunately, Keodouangsy is not only an outstanding scorer; he’s an excellent passer, too.

But why look so far ahead? The 18U soccer players still have lots of goals to work toward while the weather is warm. And they’re having fun doing it while, all the while, continuing to learn.

That’s what Coach Euceda likes.

“Every year we have to get better,” he said. “And we’re doing it.”

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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