Harmony-Ridge, OHS-Gateway in boys semifinals
Photo/Special to the News-Gazette
Members of the Gateway Panthers soccer team gather around Orlando City Lions goalie Miguel Gallardo (top center) after Gallardo spoke to the team recently. Gateway begins district tournament play Monday.
By Rick Pedone
The 5A-9 boys district soccer tournament semifinals Tuesday pit Harmony against Ridge Community at 6 p.m. and Osceola against Harmony at 8 p.m. at St. Cloud High.
Those teams were the top four seeds and they were winners in the quarterfinal round Monday.
The winners Tuesday play for the championship Friday at 6 p.m. at St. Cloud.
The coaches said before the tournament that it was going to be competitive.
“It’s as close as I’ve ever seen it,” Osceola Coach Tom Bell said.
Osceola, 8-5-2, concluded the regular season at Gateway, 10-5-2, Thursday.
The Kowboys, 5-1-1 in the district, tied Harmony, 11-4-4, in the district regular season standings, but they earned the top seed based on a regular season victory over the Longhorns.
Bell said his team should be stronger with the return of center midfielder Tim Elsterman, out since early in the season after suffering a concussion, Bell said.
“He will help us. He was scoring goals before he was hurt,” Bell said.
A young lineup with only three seniors and one junior has made this season a learning-on-the-job production, Bell said, and he is happy with the progress displayed by his team.
“We don’t have the same caliber of players you see in counties like Orange and Brevard, but I wouldn’t trade a single one of my kids for them,” Bell said. “They’ve been playing great together. We play hard every game.”
Sophomore Alex Medina leads the Kowboys in scoring with 12 goals, and Austin Richards and Luis Medrano, two seniors, also have been productive around the goal.
Bell said keeper Jonatan Cruz, the team’s third senior, has saved several games for OHS.
“He’s been fantastic. He’s kept us in a lot of games this season,” Bell said.
Bell said Gateway’s experience and excellent coaching from first-year Coach Dean Olliff make it a district favorite.
“They’ve got seniors there who are very good, and Coach Olliff has done a fantastic job there. He’s one of many very good coaches we have in the county. I think that might signal an upturn for soccer here in Osceola County,” Bell said. “We’ve had several of our former players return here to help me as assistants this year, and they are doing a fantastic job for our program.”
Olliff said that although his squad has struggled at times, as it did in a 4-0 loss to Lake Nona Monday, it should benefit from a philosophy that Olliff borrowed from boxing legend Muhammad Ali: “Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
Olliff said that he brought Orlando City Lions goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo to Gateway to speak to his players, and Gallardo challenged them to make the most of the opportunity they have.
“They seem to have taken him up on the challenge,” Olliff said.
Osman Toro and Rodolfo Morales lead the Panthers in scoring, and Victor Restrepo and Carlos Rojas have made key assists.
Olliff credits assistant coach Sagar Patel for molding a group of young defenders into an effective unit.
“He has had his work cut out with essentially a brand new back line. Hopefully, our work early in the season will pay off and we will retain our consistency going into the district tournament,” Olliff said.