International flavor

Diversity makes soccer team stronger

Never mind that the numbers on the Moffat County High School boys soccer team are almost half and half with Hispanic and Caucasian players. The only color that separated them Friday was the blue and white jerseys that differentiated between varsity starters (white) and nonstarters (blue).

"We hang out in different groups at school," said senior captain Rowan DuBois. "Then when we get to the field we're all together as one team."

First-year coach Jeff Hammond is looking forward to the interaction on his team.

"We could have a goal scored this year where a Caucasian goalie passes to a Hispanic defender who passes it to a Caucasian midfielder who gets the assist by sending it to a Hispanic striker," he said. "Then after the goal they will all celebrate together with no animosity."

The number of Hispanic players on the team has increased from two to eight since 2001, the year assistant coach Isidro Quezada Jr. graduated. The assistant coach attributes the higher participation to several things.

"I coached the U-18 team this summer and encouraged the Hispanic players who played to come out," he said. "With four guys returning from last year's team it encouraged the others to come out too."

One of the top returners from the Hispanic community is captain Hugo Quezada. The senior midfielder led the team in assists last year and will anchor the middle again.

"We all complement each other well no matter what kind of family we come from," he said. "This year's team could be ready to take the next step."

The next step could be a number of things. The Bulldogs finished 5-10 last year and 5-9 two years ago. A step toward a .500 record or better would be one thing. The last two years the team was eliminated from playoff contention in the last week of games.

Making the playoffs would certainly qualify as a next step.

Reaching the postseason has been made easier this year for all of Class 4A. Instead of a 16-team postseason, the bracket has been expanded to 32 teams. Six of the nine teams in the Western Slope League will make it into the tournament.

"We want to make the playoffs this year," Hammond said. "That is our first goal."

To get to the playoffs the Bulldogs will need to play better in games against middle-of-the-road teams this year. Last year the Bulldogs were 2-4 against the top three teams in the league and 0-4 against the fourth-and fifth-place teams in the league. If they would have just split against the middle-tier teams they would have finished for a tie for third in the league instead of sixth.

"We have to take every game like it's against the best in the league," DuBois said. "Last year we would take it easy sometimes and it cost us."

Hammond believes his team has the tools to compete with everybody.

"I don't see any weak spots," he said. "Our keeper keeps getting better, our defense is tough our midfield is fast and our strikers know how to finish and get open."

Last year's team graduated 10 seniors, but Hammond said he was confident about his returning players.

"We've filled the voids that we lost from last year," he said.

The players are still at wait and see.

"We are still putting the pieces together," Quezada said.

"We can't think too far ahead right now," DuBois said.

What they can think about is how the addition of Hispanic players, who always play in the summer and for El Mexico, a mostly Hispanic team, has made the team better.

"Without them we wouldn't be a team," DuBois said.

But the way they see it is that there are few differences.

"They're all Americans who love soccer," Hammond said.

And he expects them to love winning.

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