Sahuaros Articles from 2003
Micah Kaplan used to sit in the stands watching the Arizona Sahuaros, marveling at how fast they were.
Now he is running with them.
"I grew up watching the Sahuaros," said Kaplan, who was a Class 4A first team All-State player at Glendale Cactus High. "To be a part of them is surreal."
When the Sahuaros moved from the D3 Pro League to the Men's Premier Soccer League this year, it created opportunities for young players. Kaplan, Mesa Mountain View's Skelly Kellar and Deer Valley's Cas Saverino, all 2003 graduates, were asked to play for the team primarily made up of college and former semi-pro or pro players.
"I never expected this," said Saverino, an honorable mention All-State player who signed with Grand Canyon. "It was a big sigh of disbelief. I'm motivated to come out here and play hard every day. Just playing with these players, you have to find a better touch and become a better player."
Arizona hosts the Tucson Tiburons at 7:30 tonight at Grand Canyon in its final regular-season match. The Sahuaros have qualified for the playoffs, which begin Aug. 1.
The youth movement is one reason Petar Draksin elected to return as Sahuaros coach after initially stepping down last year.
"I love the idea of me pulling these three kids and opening up doors to high school players," Draksin said. "This is the best thing to do in the summertime if they're good enough. We're here to work with the youth soccer community. We need the youth soccer community to get behind us, and we'll do whatever we can for them."
The Sahuaros played two exhibition games against the Sereno Soccer Club '86 team that won a regional title last month in Hawaii. Sereno administrator Harry Demos likes the direction of the Sahuaros.
"I think it's a great venue for these young elite players as they prepare to move on," Demos said. "I think what it's doing is helping the transition to that collegiate or semi-pro level. It's important that we have a place in the summer for these players to have a place to play."
The MPSL is designed mainly for collegiate players preparing for their upcoming season or those hoping to move on to the next level. None of the players are paid.
Kellar, an All-Arizona selection headed to Azusa Pacific, delivered in a big way in his Sahuaros debut. He scored the game-winning goal on a free kick with 19 seconds in a win over the Tiburons.
"It was one of the coolest things that could've happened," said Kellar, who had 21 goals and 16 assists last year at Mountain View. "I felt like David Beckham for 10 seconds."
Immediately, the young guns noticed the MPSL's pace is much quicker than they were used to. That alone, has aided their development.
"The speed of play is a lot faster than your average club game," Kellar said. "I've learned a lot and gotten quicker. Quicker making decisions, quicker on the ball. It's a great experience going into college to play at the highest level I can in Arizona."
Records were flying by the minute.
Luiz Araujo and Manoel Coelho set team and Men's Premier Soccer League records as the Arizona Sahuaros beat the Tucson Tiburons 11-0 Saturday night at Grand Canyon in front of 505 fans.
Araujo scored five goals, establishing MPSL and Sahuaros records. Coelho had four in the largest margin of victory for any team in league play this season.
"It was just a matter of time before they exploded," Sahuaros coach Petar Draksin said of the two forwards. "It's no surprise to me. What a better time to come than before the playoffs?"
Arizona (8-6-1) opens the playoffs at Utah (12-3) next Saturday.
Coelho had a natural hat trick, scoring three goals in the first half. His first came on a penalty kick at 9:45. He added another in the 28th minute on a shot to the upper corner. Five minutes later, he redirected a cross from Araujo on a header to put the Sahuaros up 5-0.
"We always expected this moment," Coelho said. "The chemistry only happens when the whole team is supporting us. We feel the team is only getting better."
Araujo scored twice in the opening half, giving the Sahuaros a 3-0 lead. And it was more of the same in the second half as Araujo notched a natural hat trick. Two of his goals came on setups from Coelho.
"We know how each other plays since we're both from Brazil," Araujo said. "I can't say it was just me and him. The whole team also helped."
Brian Ronan scored on an assist from Coelho, and Jesus Ruiz added another goal.
Tucson (4-10-1) had two chances to prevent the shutout. Ricardo Camacho hooked a shot wide in the 40th minute and Enrique Garcia got past keeper Eric Tate in the 76th minute but hit the post.
Sahuaros give Salt Ratz prickly end
By Peter Richins
DRAPER -- The Utah Salt Ratz lost the Men's Premier Soccer League championship game in the most disappointing fashion. With less than a minute remaining in the first overtime period, the Arizona Sahuaros put together a string of passes that started with sweeper Shawn Watson, went through Luis Araujo and ended when Manoel Coelho poked home the game winner for a 2-1 victory at Juan Diego Catholic High School.
"It's very disappointing," Utah coach B.J. Noble said. "We were taking it to them the whole game."
Arizona coach Peter Draksin credited his defense for the victory.
"Our defense played their hearts out," Draksin said. "They played incredible. They fought and fought."
Perhaps the Sahuaros' biggest achievement was shutting down Utah forward K.C. Nordfors, the league's top goal-scorer.
"They came out prepared," Noble said. "Their structured defense was good." Utah tallied first when Kenny Hickman put home a 35-yard shot in the 13th minute after getting a pass form Jesse Day. The Ratz led until the 58th minute, when Coelho punched a free kick through the Ratz's defensive wall and hit the net.
Noble credited a number of his players with solid games, including Hickman and defender Bryce Stevenson. "Bryce played a hell of a game," Noble said. "Our defense was solid. We had one defensive breakdown, and it hurt us." The match was perhaps the most physical of the MPSL season, with several players shoving and slide-tackling harshly enough to deserve red cards. But none was shown. The physical play didn't bother Noble, who said both sides were playing tough. "As far as a championship game goes, that's what it's supposed to be," Noble said.
Draksin may have seen some similarities between the match and the teams' regular- season game on the Ratz's home field. In that game, the Sahuaros lost five players to injuries, none of whom has returned to the lineup. Draksin said the Sahuaros were looking for payback.
"You can only beat a team so many times," Draksin said. Since Arizona lost to Utah three times this year, he figured the Ratz were due for a loss. "We won the semifinal on the road, and we won the final on the road," Draksin said. "These guys have a lot of character."
Noble also praised his team's efforts throughout the season. "The guys played their hearts out," Noble said. "We were shooting for third or fourth place. I'd say we overachieved."