With a hearty mix of local and international talent, the Crowder soccer team is looking to build off their successful campaign a season ago and make a deep run in the playoffs in 2013.

With a hearty mix of local and international talent, the Crowder soccer team is looking to build off their successful campaign a season ago and make a deep run in the playoffs in 2013.

They’ll have to do it with a roster that’s undergone a massive amount of turnover, however, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“There’s a certain concern about (the youth),” Roughriders coach Brad Smith said. “There’s not as many older guys and you worry about leadership. Some of the better teams I’ve had were loaded with freshmen, though, so I’m not concerned about it much. It’s all about how they work.”

All but seven players on the 26-man roster are incoming freshmen. Returning sophomores are midfielders Facinet Camara, Jose Valdez, Michael Balcha and Christian Ramirez, along with defenders Luis Martinez, Osumane Ba and keeper Gediyon Kasemo.

After placing an emphasis on recruiting top local talent, the Roughriders will field a large number of area standouts this season. Highlighting the new class are former Neosho High School standouts Angel Garcia (midfielder) and Jordan Linehan (midfielder). Garcia and Linehan will be joined by former Carthage standouts Luis Martinez (defender), Manny Marquez (defender), and Walter Avalos (midfielder). Joplin’s Joe Rice (forward), Brantley Gossett (forward) and Will Krolman (defender) and Cassville’s Klayten Holt (defender) round out the notable locals.

While many Roughrider fans are likely familiar with the local names, there is also a mix of international talent, including four freshmen, converging on Neosho they might not know. Joining the squad is keeper Gustav Kennestig (Skillingaryd, Sweden), defender Kenneth Aleri (London, England), midfielder Daniel Collins (Bath, England) and defender Marco Collina (Sau Paulo, Brazil).

Smith said his biggest hurdle, perhaps, is finding a way to get this cocktail of cultures to mesh into one.

“We feel like we’ve got the best local group around,” Smith said. “We love to get them involved with us. We’ve got some international kids and some other parts that we hope will come together.

Cohesion will be the biggest hurdle. I think having so many people from different places, different styles and cultures … how do you get everyone pointed in the same direction? I bet you that most of them will find one of their best friends for a lifetime over the next couple of weeks, but we’ll see.”

While coaxing cohesiveness may be a chore, it’s not something Smith has had much trouble with in the past. In fact, he credited many of the program’s alumni, many of whom are still active in helping build the program, for keying him and the school on the non-local talent this season.

“Probably the most important part of this with the kids that aren’t relatively local is that our alumni group has put us in contact with them,” Smith said. “They’ve played for me and know how I am and what I like, and they see kids they like and put us in contact with them. They know how I am and how we play, plus is makes them look good in their local communities, as well. It’s a win-win.”

The alumni group also helped raise funds for a flashy new banner that will stretch along the north side of the soccer field this season. It’s yet another sign that the season is nearing with each passing minute.

It will come soon enough for the Roughriders as they host their alumni game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Crowder. They’ll scrimmage Southwest Baptist University in Neosho at 4 p.m. on Aug. 15 and again against Allen County two days later at 3 p.m. before kicking off the regular season on Aug. 22 at home against Ozark Christian College at 4 p.m.

“I don’t think our schedule is remarkably different than it’s been any other year … so I would expect that our record will be as good or better as it’s been and hopefully things will come together in the end. I’m guessing just like everyone else, but I’d be surprised if (Jefferson College) isn’t one of the better teams.”

Smith says he’s anxious and optimistic about the team he’ll field this season.

“I think we recruited the right guys, but I guess we’ll find out here in a few weeks when we start playing,” he said. “I’m going to guess this group’s going to have a pretty good work ethic. I think we’re going to have relatively decent speed. I think the group last year knocked it around pretty good and I wouldn’t expect that to change.

“It’s going to matter whether we can come together as a team, the cohesion. If we can’t it’s going to be a struggle.”

While the team lost several sophomores last year, they also lost a coach in Neosho native and former Roughrider player James Carter, who accepted the head coaching position at Bacone College in Muskogee, Okla. Replacing him is Gary Worth, a man who played for Smith some 20 years ago at Westmar University in Le Mars, Iowa. Worth is expected to handle video duties for the team as well as assisting Smith along with Elmer Duncan on the sidelines.

“Gary played for me at Westmar University, so he knows what it’s like to get yelled at and what kind of buttons I’m going to push so he can help the guys get comfortable with it and learn that it’s not going to be a personal thing when it happens,” Smith said. “He knows a lot of people and we’re hoping that he can help us open up some areas when it comes to recruiting.”

Smith said he believes Carter will do well at Bacone, especially if the school allows him to hold the reigns.

“I think he’s familiar with how I do things, but how much he’ll change I’m not sure. Where I think he’ll do really well is with off the field things like making sure kids are going to class and things — the kinds of things that nobody pays much attention to. He’s an active recruiter so I think he’ll be okay. I think he’s really excited and I think he’ll jump in with both feet. He’s got great character and I’m sure he’ll be fine.”