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West mens' soccer program strengthened by local athletes

For the first time this fall, the Minnesota West Community and Technical College men’s soccer program will have advanced from a club operation to a full-fledged intercollegiate sport. For first-year head coach Jordan Balster, that means predictions are hard to make.

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WORTHINGTON -- For the first time this fall, the Minnesota West Community and Technical College men’s soccer program will have advanced from a club operation to a full-fledged intercollegiate sport. For first-year head coach Jordan Balster, that means predictions are hard to make.

“It’s going to be hard to tell, but we definitely want to come in and work on our team camaraderie and work on playing together,” Balster said this week. “I’ve always been about moving the ball upfield, to give us a chance to score some goals.”

At this stage prior to a pre-season practice schedule, the Bluejays have got nine regular season games in the hopper -- five on the road and four at home, with at least two reserved for Trojan Field. There are 12 to 15 players expected to compete, with possibly a few more being added later.

Balster, a three-year soccer player at Worthington High School who went on to play at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, for four years, has previously assisted the WHS boys soccer team for six seasons. He volunteered as a school-age soccer coach in Storm Lake while at college, and he currently works as program coordinator at the Worthington Area YMCA.

He happily reports that six former WHS graduates will play for West as freshmen.

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Ricky Rodriguez participated at a high level for the Trojans last year as a goalkeeper. Bradley Soto and Jason Morales were outside defenders at WHS where they provided outstanding depth.

Gabriel Johnson played football last fall for the Trojans but has played summer soccer at the YMCA. He will require some seasoning but can be counted on to put in the time and effort needed for improvement.

Manuel Mendez and Tony Martinez graduated from WHS a few years ago and now plan to continue their soccer careers. Mendez is a midfielder who can play other positions. Martinez’s quickness can help him perform on both ends of the pitch.

The Bluejays will also give a long look to freshman Gio Cano, a center-midfielder originally from California who graduated from a military high school in Japan. Two other key recruits are Zachary Finnesgard of Rochester, Minn., and Julian Ramirez of Fukuoka, Japan.

When Balster assisted the local high school program, the Trojans not only won a lot of matches, but they did it with excellent defense. The new Minnesota West coach hopes to see exceptional defensive effort this fall.

Since the Bluejays will not have a lot of depth, it will be important for them to play at a healthy fitness level. They can’t afford a lot of injuries.

There may be a few chances to get in the win column.

“We’ll play Dordt JV this year, which we played in the past. (We’ve) had some good results in the past, so that’s a game we definitely hope to compete in,” Balster said. “Southeast Community College (in Beatrice, Neb.) will be our first game on Aug. 21. We’re obviously just hoping for the best. I think with the guys we’ve got, we’re definitely hoping we can compete. Keep your fingers crossed, but even when we’re on the losing end, we can build on those experiences.”

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For future considerations, Minnesota West is fortunate to have a potentially strong feeder program close by. Worthington High School continues to be a southwest Minnesota soccer power, and in 2022 several seasoned Trojans will graduate.

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