A penalty kick was the lone culprit separating the Cyclone men's soccer team from a long-desired trip to the national tournament last season. Plenty of players return this year from that talented squad hoping to avenge themselves and repeat with a top region record.
As far as head Coach TJ Donahue is concerned, his group finished the 2017 season as NJCAA Region IV champions. They held an overall 15-2-2 record (5-1-1 in the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference), first in the region. Unfortunately, their region final game came down to penalty kicks. Strong recruits are joining the veteran players, providing a promising outlook this year.
"We'll be strong this season," said Donahue, who enters his third season leading the Cyclones. "We have a lot of defenders and mid-fielders back. We'll score as much as last year, but it'll be more spread out because we have more guys who can score."
Sophomore Daniel Kasaggoma (Uganda), who was the top scorer two years ago, was out last season due to injury. He's back and looks to be key on offense. James Finn (Stagg), Michael Kaczmarczyk (Shepard), Rafal Kobylarczyk (Stagg), Tomasz Kulak (Stagg), and Drake Silver (Lockport) comprise a solid core of leaders who were the base of last year's team and should continue that trend. Top Cyclone goalkeeper Gustavo Flores (Eisenhower) finished last season ranked No. 6 nationally for save percentage (.894) and returns as a starter. Freshmen Bryan Hurtado (Solorio Academy) is another strong goalkeeper and Bryan Gonzalez (Hubbard) should make an impact offensively as well.
"There are a lot of new faces that will work their way into the lineup. We're looking very good with this dedicated and hard-working group," said Donahue, who is again joined on the sidelines by assistant Christopher Koloffon and newcomer Alejandro Unzueta. "We have a tougher schedule, especially because we travel for the first two games of the season against very good teams. If we get past these first two successfully, we'll be on a roll."
Yielding a bevy of talent, the Cyclones also want to make sure everyone stays healthy, which can be a challenge for such a physical sport. Subbing for injured starters often changes the dynamic on the field; however, when that happened to the Cyclones last year, they were able to pick up where they left off and still reap success.
The Cyclones aim to repeat their successes and go even further in 2018. They kick off on Saturday, Aug. 25, at Lincoln Land Community College. Their home opener is Monday, Sept. 3, at 4 p.m. against Truman College.