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Despite embarking on its first season in an elite league, the Pacesetter soccer team has set its sights on putting together a championship-caliber campaign in the USL Super-20 League.
At the midpoint of its inaugural season, the Sylvania-based team of college players ages 17 to 20 is within striking distance of a playoff spot with a 2-2-2 start.
About half of the club's roster consists of former local high school standouts.
St. John's Jesuit graduate Evan Lee, who now plays at Ohio Wesleyan University, said he's not surprised the local team — named Pacesettervilla — has been competitive.
“It's been everything we expected and more,” Lee said. “It's the top kids not just from the area but also from different countries. It's the best college kids in the country.
“Coming into the season we thought we could finish first and after the first game (a 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew Juniors on May 25), we knew we were the real deal.”
The team currently sits in fifth place in the six-team Midwest East division after a 1-1 draw with Columbus on Sunday.
Pacesetter's four remaining games include two opponents in the bottom half of the the standings. The top two teams will qualify for the Super-20 League finals. Only 16 of the league's 55 teams receive bids to the championships that will take place July 18-21 in Bradenton, Fla.
Head coach Ryan Creech, a former boys coach at Northview for 16 seasons, said his Pacesetter team has the talent to still earn a spot.
“I think we expected to be a little better off," he said last week. "But right now we have a really good chance to make the playoffs. With the way our schedule is panning out, it's really in our favor.”
The team has won two of its games at home, but has lost two and tied one in three games on the road.
The playoff push begins today when Pacesetter hosts Vardar East, a team based in Pontiac, Mich. The game today against Vardar has been moved to St John's High School. The game kicks off at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5.
“Every game from here on out is a must-win,” Lee said. “Every game we have to go into with a playoff mentality. We have three at home, and that helps as well. The atmosphere at our home games has been amazing.”
Pacesetter hosts the Michigan Force next Monday at Southview and the Toronto Lynx on July 9 at Timberstone Junior High School.
Jimmy Walker, an assistant coach and executive director of coaching at Pacesetter, said a handful of local products are starting.
He said three St. John's Jesuit graduates, Lee, Matt Essig, and Ryan Peterson, are playing very well.
“These kids take pride in playing for [their home club],” Walker said.
Essig is at Duquesne University, while Peterson plays for Dayton. Two other former Titans, Jake Martin (Owens) and Josh McCoy (Ohio Northern), also compete for Pacesetter.
Northview grad Mike McPeek (Tiffin) scored a goal in the team's 3-1 win over Waza East, a Detroit-based club.
Two former Ottawa Hills players, Logan Glosser (Case Western) and Reed Glosser (Wittenberg) play for the team along with St. Francis' Ashton Winkler (Urbana). Two former Perrysburg players, James Roberts (UC Colorado Springs), and Jaime Gonzalez (Ohio State), also are on the roster.
“They have been a huge part of this team. These boys are doing a nice job,” Walker said.
Creech said he has coached and been around all of the local players for many years.
“They are doing exactly what we expected,” Creech said. “They have always been a strong and hard-working group. They keep forging ahead. They have great personalities.”
Creech said the team, which was formed in early May, is still trying to find an identity. The roster includes players from Brazil, England, Morocco, and Mexico.
“The tough part of our team is that we have a mix of players from different cultures who play two or three different styles,” Creech said. “Sometimes you see some frustration but we're figuring that out.”
He said the team practices nearly everyday.
“It took some time to gel and get going,” Lee said. “We all kind of put our style to the side.”
Creech and Walker put together the roster in the hopes of instantly competing for a title in the Super-20s League, which is affiliated with the United Soccer League.
“The competition level has been fantastic,” Creech said. “Most of these players are playing for very good colleges. These are the top athletes in college soccer.”
In April, Pacesetter entered into a partnership with the Aston Villa Football Club of the English Premier League. The affiliation attracted not only the top local Division I players but also players from overseas.
“It's a lot of pressure but we all knew that coming in,” Lee said. “We thrive under pressure. We get to be an example for the younger players in the community.”
Walker said the stormy weather this spring and early summer has led to three rainouts.
“For a first-year team, we are doing really really well,” Walker said. “We are in playoff contention.”
Walker said a crowd of 1,500 attended the home opener and 600 attended the team's second home game.
“I think everyone that has come out and watched these games has come away saying, 'Wow these lads are really good,'” Walker said. “It's a really high level of soccer. It's great entertainment.”
Creech said fans can expect a very good quality of soccer with crisp passing.
“I think people are surprised how good these athletes are and how physical and how fast the game is,” Creech said. “It's an enjoyable game to watch because we haven't had that level around here. We're not used to seeing it here. It's exciting, quick and fast.”
Lee said his team puts on a good show.
“You can expect quality,” Lee said. “It will also be very physical.”
Creech said he will be disappointed if his team doesn't make the playoffs.
“Our expectations have been high,” he said. “We expect to win and get into a playoff spot."
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.