The Catholic High School boys’ soccer team is used to having most of the top talent when squaring off against other Missouri Class 1 teams.
But against Bayless on Friday in the state semifinals, the defending champion Irish will face at least one player with comparable skill to some of the top Catholic standouts.
Bayless (20-7) features Fazlo Alihodzic, a senior who has scored 46 goals this season, according to stltoday.com. Those numbers are tops in the St. Louis area.
Still, top-ranked Catholic (25-4) counters with a prolific duo in seniors Evan Craig and Mitch Moncada. The pair, along with goalkeeper James Straus, played in the Olympic Development Program over the summer with Alihodzic.
Moncada, with 60 goals, is one of the only players in the state who can look down at Alihodzic’s goal total. The senior is one of the state’s best, and could be among the best players in southwest Missouri history.
His coach, a former player at Fontbonne University, has high praise for his forward.
“There’s been so many times during games this year where I look at the assistant coaches and say, ‘How does he do that?’ ” coach Tom Guinn said. “It’s few and far between when you get to see that during high school soccer. Even when you’re watching other teams, more times than not, you don’t see that.”
Moncada, who Guinn said works hard and is as humble as a coach would want, scored on 41 percent of his shots on goal in the regular season.
Meanwhile, on most teams, Moncada’s running mate Craig would be the headliner. And the 32-goal, 30-assist midfielder/forward has developed on-field chemistry with Moncada.
“Since freshman year, we’ve always been a good duo,” Craig said. “We understand where to be on the field. And I know that if I get down the line this year, and send a good ball in toward him, I know it’s going to be a goal.”
The Irish were not sure Craig would be available for Saturday’s quarterfinal after missing the sectional game last week. The senior played and was near top form, though, scoring the first two goals in a 3-0 win against Sedalia Sacred Heart.
Craig has verbally committed to Rockhurst University in Kansas City, a school Moncada also is considering.
Moncada, the all-time scoring leader for Catholic’s 6-year-old program, said he also may join former Catholic teammate Reid Harbach and other area standouts at the Richmond International Academic and Soccer Academy in England.
Craig and Moncada praised their teammates in interviews this week, as Moncada said defensive starters Blake Weber, Danny Renner, Nick Wiegers and Josh Wegenka have come together in the back.
Craig noted he’s been pleased with junior Ryan Randell, who has moved up to the attack from defense, and has been pleasantly surprised with sophomore midfielder Tommy Giovanni.
The run feels similar than last year so far, Craig said, but the real work is still ahead.
“I would say my sophomore year when we kind of blew it (by losing in the finals), we might’ve been a little overconfident because we beat (2010 finals opponent) Whitfield 3-0 in the regular season,” Craig said. “But once you get to state, the games get a little closer.”
When: Friday and Saturday
Where: Blue Springs and Blue Springs South high schools
Local schedule: Class 2 – Carthage (21-8) vs. Lutheran South (22-5-1), 1 p.m. at Blue Springs; finals, noon Saturday at Blue Springs South; third-place game, 10 a.m. Saturday at Blue Springs
Class 1 – Catholic (25-4) vs. Bayless (20-7), 2 p.m. at Blue Springs South; finals, 2 p.m. Saturday at Blue Springs South; consolation, noon Saturday at Blue Springs
Admission: $7 per session