Though the 2012 boys high school season is over, three MCC players had the opportunity to represent their school, community and state in the 2012 High School All-American game this past Saturday at UAB West Campus Stadium in Birmingham, AL.
The three St. Louis players (Xhovani Dokaj, Jason Pesek & Curt Shillingsford) were selected to participate from 20 positions for the West team, and played against some of the best 20 seniors from the East squad for bragging rights and an opportunity to finish their senior years of high school playing alongside and against future collegiate players. While the match was played in conjunction with the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Soccer Final Four, it’s worth mentioning that three of the 5 goals scored in the semi-final matches on Friday evening by the collegiate teams were scored by players who played in the 2011 All-American game. “The level of talent this year, as last year, is outstanding. These players have never trained together until one day prior to the match, and you would have never known from the quality of skill and athleticism displayed,” remarked Eric Stratman, Director of the High School All-American game. “They’ve really enjoyed being with one another, and to share their soccer abilities has been a treat for all of us.”
This was the second year for the All-American match, and the level of play did not disappoint the crowd of more than 200 family, friends and college coaches. While the East squad took advantage of a turnover about 8 minutes into the match for a 1-0 lead, the West started to establish a rhythm after making some tactical adjustments. “We started in a 4-3-3 (formation), but we weren’t able to capitalize on the midfield the way we wanted,” remarked Pesek. “So we talked to the coaches and switched to a 4-4-2, allowing us to establish control in the midfield and create more opportunities moving forward.” The West tied the match at 1-1 off a cross and finish from Niko Hansen (Sacramento Jesuit, CA).
“We took a little while to adjust to the speed of play and the movement from the East, but came around as the match went on,” remarked Shillingsford. “Not playing a competitive match in a few weeks, it took a little bit to shake off the rust, but once we did, it was a lot of fun.”
The second half definitely moved in the West’s favor, creating dangerous chances off of crosses, and had a shot off the crossbar and one cleared off the line. The East snuck back on top with a questionable PK in the 63rd minute, converted for a 2-1 lead. The West came right back just four minutes later off a Michael Vieth (Reitz Memorial, Evansville, IN) shot and goal. With overtime looming in the 90-minute regulation match, the West staff brought on numerous fresh legs and the strategy paid off, as Pesek sent a cross through the box that couldn’t be handled by an East defender, and Charlie Constantino (East Kenwood, Kenwood, MI) one-timed a short for a 3-2 lead in the 86th minute. The East tried to push forward, but the West continued to attack and thwart any push into their offensive zone. “Our back line was even better as the match went one,” said Dokaj, “which allowed us to carry into the offensive zone and keep the pressure on.”
As the final whistle sounded, and a 3-2 score in favor of the West squad was secured, the players from both teams shook hands, shared hugs and had many photos taken with their new friends. While the West squad was especially pleased with extending the winning streak for their squad (the West also won last year’s inaugural match by the identical score), the players and coaching staffs were all smiles after being a part of a special event. “I feel fortunate to be a part of this event,” remarked Chaminade coach Mike Gauvain, part of the West squad coaching staff. “It’s been a first-class experience for these boys the past few days, and many will compete further in college. This is what makes the sport so special, when you see such great competitors on the field become such good friends off as well. Just a great experience.”