Sports Editor

Celebration has lost once to an Osceola County foe in the last three years — to Gateway in a district tournament quarterfinal in 2017. The Storm rolled through Orange Belt Conference competition, then did it again in District 5A-9, then did it again in the Region 3 playoffs, reaching the state semifinal match.

Expect another incredibly competitive 5A-9 district tournament, which includes most of Osceola County, Haines City, Lakeland George Jenkins and Davenport Ridge, in late January.

Liberty (District 4A-7), Poinciana (3A-11) and New Dimensions (A-9) will have to top Polk and Highlands County competition to reach the playoffs.

Celebration

Why can’t the Storm make another deep run?

Under Coach Chad Boudreaux, the Storm went 16-3-4 and played every postseason match (seven of them) at home. The district tournament semifinals and finals will be at St. Cloud, but other than that, the team’s loaded for bear again.

Center midfielder and reigning county Player of the Year Matuck Machado returns along with striker Luis Mora, who scored some big goals during the playoff run.

Junior forward Gabriel Pinheiro returns along with fullbacks Daniel Perez and Oscar Newman, the latter who played a ton of minutes as a freshman.

Stellar goalkeeper Alex Buttery left for England over the summer to pursue a playing a career, and Boudreaux is working with juniors Jonathan Deer and Horacio Parisi.

This time of year, Boudreaux does not tip his hat to who he’s relying on.

“I will not single out players. We work best as a team and no one person is above it,” he said. “I will say that we lost a lot of fire power up top (forwards Inti Antunez, Mel Rodriguez, Eduardo Albuquerque), but we have some players that are returning and new that should and will make up or surpass what we had last season.

“The one thing I felt we were lacking last year was our defensive unity.  We had some great defenders but no one took charge to direct the defense what to do. This year we have a few newcomers that have stepped into those roles and right now even though it is early it seems like they are working well together on the back line.”

The Storm has fired out of the gate, opening 4-0 against the likes of Cypress Creek, Seminole and Lake Mary. The team will play at Olympia and Freedom Monday and Friday and hosts Montverde Academy Wednesday.

“When it comes to district and conference, I still believe we play in one of the toughest ones in the state,” Boudreaux said. “Each year it seems there are a few surprises that we were not expecting.  The usual suspects will be up there battling for the title, but one or two teams that are traditionally at the bottom will battle hard and make every game a war.  I am hoping we can avoid any trap games, play hard every day, and make a run that matches or surpasses last year.

CHS Matuck Machado POY

Celebration center midfielder Matuck Machado will be called on again to lead the Storm soccer attack.

“I am hoping this will be another exciting year at CHS, but I know that when you finish the last season at the top everyone will be gunning for you.  If our young men come together, play hard everyday, and know that not one person is above the team we will have another exciting season.”

Gateway

The Panthers were 8-10-3 but were Celebration’s toughest test in the OBC and gave the Storm all it could handle in the district semifinals.

Coach Sagar Patel returns some key pieces like senior midfielder Juan Florez, Jean Batista, Aike Perez, Jerson Maldonado and Daniel Castenada.

Osceola

For the first time in nearly a decade, Coach Tom Bell won’t be roaming the sidelines. Hugo Reis takes over for the Kowboys, a program that’s been a postseason enigma — getting through districts and making the regionals during substandard regular seasons, or losing early in the district tournament, like a loss to Ridge as the No. 2 seed in the District 5A-9 tournament opener last year, Bell’s last game.

Reis has the luxury of a fleet of returning players including starting goalike Juan Villegas and the 23 and 15 goals respectively of Joseth Andino and Jamil Cabriles.

“Joseth plays fast and agile, Jamil is a playmaker sand Juan is the best goalkeeper the school has had in a while,” Reis said.

Other top returnees include junior defensive midfielder Parker Brenneman, sophomore center back Antonio Espinoza and agile sophomore wing Ezequiel Rabelo, midfielders Daniel Suarez, Phillip Williams, Abraham Lysyj and Arturo Larreal and fullbacks Daniel Perozo and Nick Murray.

Reis said it’s a physical and young team that likes to attack.

“We have only five seniors with four sophomores. All players that are starting, including the defenders, are able to score,” Reis said.

St. Cloud

Coach Weylan Craig said the Bulldogs have the pieces in place to improve on last year’s 6-8-3 mark.

“With seven returning starters, the Bulldogs are seeking to make an impact on a dynamic district full of soccer powerhouses like Osceola, Gateway, Celebration, and George Jenkins,” Craig said.

Jack Stevens and Ethan McTarsney transferred from Harmony. Seniors Seth Hanson and Javi Salinas look to make a significant impact at midfield, while junior keeper Noah Craig and senior defender Ezra Lencina lock down the defense. Sophomore Kevin Prado scored the team’s first goal of the season in a loss to Boone.

Freshman Anderson Agudello was on his way to earning a starting spot and provided a much needed spark until injury took him out to start the season, Craig said.

Poinciana

The Eagles were 7-10-1 a year ago, and return a solid back line of seniors — Ahmed Fahim, O'Brian Scarlett, Dylan Thephitack, and Mikey Soto. Newcomer Juan Bautista is new to the program and making an impact in the midfield. Sophomore Abdel Nour is a sophomore up from the JV adding punch to the wing. Four goalies are fighting out that starting spot.

Coach Daniel Joyner is looking to pump up the Eagles’ scoring punch.

“With this being my third year coaching this team I can finally say that the program is really starting to develop and take off,” he said. “We created a JV program last year, we had over 60 come out this year and we were able to increase our talent level. I feel like this year is going to be a great year for us to make a run at the regional tournament and perform well in district play (against Hardee, Lake Wales and Sebring). I have about 13 seniors that finally understand their role within our team philosophy and system of play. We feel good about this season and look forward to the success of this program. The good thing about being at Poinciana is that many schools don't think of us as a threat. Lots of people are going to be surprised this year.”

Harmony

Former assistant coach Brett Ballard takes over a Longhorns’ boys program that will look to develop chemistry early in the year.

The top returning talent includes midfielders Cody Huff, Matthew Espinosa and Carson Weis and striker Hunter Oppedahl.

Newcomers fill the back end, like center backs Gilbert Figueroa and Bennett Forsberg and goalie Tyler Lavigne.

“I am very excited for the team we have put together after losing some components to other schools in the county from last year,” Ballard said. “Our team is young and very talented and we look to turn some heads this season. A majority of our players have never played together before but have adapted and built chemistry rather quickly within a new system.”

Tohopekaliga

Coach Eddie Fernandez leads the first group of Tigers onto the field — whichever fields they play on, as the school’s field still has not been cleared for play — and the school already has its first win, a 4-1 victory over Poinciana on Nov. 13 in which freshman David Turcio scored three goals and sophomore Ruben Liazo added another. Junior David Garcia got the win in goal.

The rest of the lineup includes junior midfielder William Johnson (two assists in the win), freshman forward Stephon Davis, junior back Adolfo Castro and seniors Foloni Caravahal, Ignacio Graneros and Joel Simmons.

Liberty

The Chargers, Coached by Michael Babin have already logged a rivalry win this year, beating Poinciana 2-1 on Nov. 15.