On a team filled with nine juniors, seven sophomores and just two other seniors, Cody Braden could have spent his last season as a midfielder for the Blue Springs Wildcats thinking of himself and his future plans.

On a team filled with nine juniors, seven sophomores and just two other seniors, Cody Braden could have spent his last season as a midfielder for the Blue Springs Wildcats thinking of himself and his future plans.

A Missouri Class 3 honorable mention all-state selection this season after tallying 7 goals and 11 assists in 22 games for the 9-13 Wildcats, Braden instead took a consistent, team-first approach that led Blue Springs to the cusp of a district championship.

It was Braden’s assist to sophomore Clay Cook on a rarely used set play that advanced the Wildcats past cross-town nemesis Blue Springs South in the semifinals of the District 14 tournament, and into the finals against Lee’s Summit North, where they lost 1-0 on a goal as time expired in overtime.

But much more than that, it was Braden’s play throughout the entire season – and his unwavering leadership – that helped him garner The Examiner’s 2010 Boys Soccer Player of the Year.

“With a team that was kind of struggling for wins, he was kind of our backbone,” Wildcats head coach Mike Palermo said. “In the tough games, he was the one that came up with that goal, or he was the one that came up with that assist. He kept everybody playing together.

“Although it was some frustration for him playing with a bunch of young players – which can be frustrating – he kind of took the lead out there on the field. He put his personal attributes aside and just kind of went for what was best for the team. We were just a fraction away from being district champions, and he had a lot to do with that.”

Said Braden of the honor: “That’s great. I didn’t expect that at all, but that’s good to hear.”

The near-miss against Lee’s Summit North still gets a rise out of Braden.

“It was real stab in the heart to lose in the last two seconds,” Braden said of the last-second loss to the Broncos, the third time in three seasons that Lee’s Summit North ended the Wildcats’ season in the district championship game. “I felt we deserved it more than them, but in the end, they came out on top, so you can’t do too much about that.

Braden will attend Metropolitan Community College-Blue River next year to continue his soccer career. He leaves Blue Springs with fond memories of his stay.

“Overall (Braden’s career) was pretty good,” he said. “I got along real well with the coaches, and I really enjoyed playing for them.”

Palermo couldn’t speak highly enough of Braden’s honor.

“I think it’s well-deserved,” Palermo said. “With the competition that we play against on a nightly basis and the teams in our area, I really think that’s a great accomplishment for Cody. We didn’t have the best record in the world, but to acknowledge him as a quality player means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to Cody.”