It was just two years ago when it seemed like the Blue Springs soccer program hit rock bottom.
In 2017, the Wildcats finished with a 0-19 record and only scored 15 goals, five of which came in a 6-5 loss to Smithville early in the season. At the time, Blue Springs had several injuries and played lackluster soccer.
Things have changed since then.
In 2018, the Wildcats won their first Suburban Big Six Conference game in three years after defeating Park Hill 1-0 midway through the season. They finished 7-15, their best record since 2014. It was a step in the right direction.
This year, the Wildcats want to accomplish more and head coach Mike Palermo said his team has the talent to compete with what seems to be an always loaded Big Six.
They showed that in a four-team jamboree Wednesday at Peve Stadium that featured Grain Valley, Raymore-Peculiar and Platte County. Blue Springs played Grain Valley and Platte County and outscored both opponents by a combined score of 5-1.
“It’s the effort we have been putting in,” senior midfielder Carlos Llamas said of the team’s improvement. “We’ve been committing 100 percent. When we went 0-and-whatever, nobody was putting in effort. It was a hard season because we lost players and didn’t have any subs. We’ve improved since then.”
Llamas led the way and looked like the Wildcats’ top offensive threat. He tallied four goals, including a beautiful shot from the right wing that he tucked inside the upper-left corner of the goal against Grain Valley. He was out with an injury for a good portion of 2018, but could make a huge impact this season.
“We have other weapons, but he’s our go-to guy,” Palermo said. “He’s one of our most dangerous players, and I think he showed that tonight.
“He can finish with both feet, he can turn players in and out and he’s technically sound with the ball. He also knows when to lay it off when a guy is on him and he knows when to go left or right and that’s a nightmare for a defender.”
He had plenty of help from his teammates, who helped dominate possession in both scrimmages. Matthew Martinez scored Blue Springs’ other goal and added an assist and Alex Maliwat tallied two assists.
Overall, Palermo said he really liked what he saw from his team’s dress rehearsal.
“I think in the second game (against Grain Valley), we really played (well),” Palermo said. “We were nervous in the first game. But everyone is healthy and everyone looked good.
“I think we’re going in the right direction and we definitely have talent. We’re definitely capable of doing good things.”
With a team that consists of eight seniors and seven juniors, the Wildcats are expecting a breakout season.
“We want to put on a good showing in our conference and show everyone that soccer is coming back to Blue Springs,” Maliwat said. “The culture in our practice is absolutely phenomenal. We are working hard to improve every single day. We all really want this.
“We want to go over .500. That’s every team’s goal. And we want to make a run at the district final. We want to play Rockhurst in sectionals.”
Grain Valley also got its first taste of competition and head coach Tyler Nichol said there were a few positives, but still a lot of kinks to work out. The Eagles were outscored 7-1 against Ray-Pec and Blue Springs, both Big Six teams. Jack Knust scored their lone goal late against the Wildcats.
“We rotated 21 guys in and out,” Nichol said. “I saw some good things with the ball. We were unlucky not to score more. I thought we could have had a couple against Ray-Pec. We kept possession for five minutes and then there was the long ball that we didn’t deal with and made mistakes on those.
“We could be a little tougher and hard-nosed in the back. We just have to continue to buy in what we’re doing.”