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Boys soccer: Local players gearing up for Development Academy Playoffs

Jeremy Papasso
Longmont’s Jovanni Chavez, right, moves the ball past a teammate during a Rapids Academy U16 team practice on Thursday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.

 

COMMERCE CITY — Athletic, heady, on the ball — Jovanni Chavez has been called many things in his soccer career. Goal-scorer was typically not one of them.

This has changed for the stout and aggressive footballer his second year playing for the Colorado Rapids Academy U16 team. He went on the attack early this season and since has found a creative spark in front of the net.

At this point, Chavez is one of his team’s hottest attackers with an impressive nine goals to his name. And he is also light years away from the role he is used to playing when on the pitch.

“All my life, I’ve been the guy who moves the ball in and makes the assist,” the soon-to-be Skyline senior said. “I put away three goals in the first couple of games and I started to feel more comfortable attacking wise.”

Chavez overcame an injured meniscus from 2012 at the right time in his career. The burgeoning attacker now has the opportunity to strut his stuff on one of the biggest stages of his career — the Development Academy Playoffs.

The U16 team nabbed one of 13 wild cards to the June 25-28 national tournament in Frisco, Texas. And, if everything goes as planned, the playoffs could just be the start for the program. A year ago, the Rapids U18 team made it to the Development Academy Nationals and the U16 team has every intention of emulating their older counterparts.

“I think it’s where we’re hoping to get this year,” Chavez said. “We’ve got a good enough team and have the talent, we just need to piece it all together.”

Chavez is expected to play a weighty role in the club’s success in the Lone Star State. But the forward/midfielder is far from the only Boulder County player anticipated to push the U16 team through the brackets. There are four other local players in addition to Chavez on the roster, including Niwot’s Quentin Pearson and Quinn Liebmann; Fairview’s Enda O’Neill; and Boulder’s Jacob Smits-Kagoshima.

Most of the players are familiar to the situation the U16 program faces entering the playoffs, given their high-caliber club backgrounds. Pearson, for example, made it to the U.S. Club Soccer regionals a few years back. But even with that on his resume, the defender is gearing up for a whole new level with this tournament.

“I’m looking forward to the competition we’re going to see down there,” Pearson said. “And the high level of play. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on us.”

Knocking back goals and making spectacular marks are not just keys for the U16 team’s tournament fortunes. They also are an important step in the players’ recruiting process with the stands and sidelines certain to be swollen with college coaches.

“There will be hundreds and hundreds of college coaches,” U16 coach Mitch Murray said. “They’ll all be there.”

For Enda O’Neill, turning the heads of college programs is top priority. And the defender, and younger brother of Colorado Rapids rising star — and Fairview grad — Shane O’Neill, is certain this is the venue where he can showcase what he has to offer.

“I just want to play the best I can and hopefully make some college coaches want me,” he said.

There are no illusions that any of these goals will be simple to accomplish. The playoffs are a meat grinder with a load of top-shelf play packed into a small window. But the pressure is more than worth the rewards at the tournament.

“There are no bad teams at this point,” O’Neill said. “We know we are one of the best teams in the nation. Hopefully we can down there and get some results.”

Follow Elwood on Twitter: @ElwoodKShelton