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If they were small businesses, they’d probably have shingles hanging outside their doors proclaiming:

“Help wanted. Young, eager soccer players needed to participate in Far East High School Boys Class A Soccer Tournament in Taegu, South Korea. Experience preferred. Inquire within.”

You’d see those signs at all five Department of Defense Dependents Schools teams participating in next week’s tournament. They’re a combined 14-38-3, and all five have losing records — the first time that’s happened in the Class A tournament’s three-year history.

The challenge they face is formidable — how to prevent defending champion Taejon Christian International (8-1-3 as of April 17) from repeating, as well as staving off Seoul International’s (8-3-2) bid for its first title, with young, rebuilding teams.

Perhaps the team with the best shot is Osan American of South Korea (5-8), which lost to TCIS 6-1 in the 2003 Class A final. The Cougars have lost twice each to the Dragons and to the SIS Tigers, but three of the losses have been close, two by 1-0 scores.

“My guys have had a very up and down season,” first-year Osan coach Holly Freeman said. “Despite the fact that one of my team’s downfalls this season has been a lack of consistency in our play, I believe the guys are pumped up for the tournament and have an excellent chance of success.”

TCIS might be a bit less fearsome than last season. Junior striker Andrew Weise scored 30 goals last year, 16 in the Far East tournament, but the exchange student is back in Georgia.

The Dragons still count Jesse Park (14 goals) and Sae Joon Jeon (13) among their weapons.

The Tigers still have John Hwang (seven goals) and Eugene Koo (five).

The Cougars sorely miss playmakers Anthony Langdon and Mike Elkins, who graduated last June.

“This year, we’re just too young,” said junior Van Hauter, who leads the Cougars with eight goals. “We don’t have the field awareness that we had last year.”

Freeman arrived at Osan from Palm Harbor University High School in Florida, where she coached the girls team for four years and won a state championship.

“She has a lot of coaching experience,” said Mark Lange of Matthew C. Perry in Japan, who coached the boys team at Palm Harbor before coming to Japan two years ago.

That experience may be far from enough to overcome TCIS and SIS. Part of it may be the luck of the draw in the double-elimination tournament.

Lange enters the tournament with only four returnees from last year’s squad. Among the players he lost was three-time All-Far East goalkeeper Chris Riegel.

So with minimal experience, and the help of sophomore midfielder Adam Krievs, Lange says the idea is to hope “your kids play hard and give it their best and hope it’s a learning experience.”

E.J. King of Japan has been fighting a similar rebuilding battle for two years.

“You can probably tell who’s going to win and be 95 percent correct,” Lange said. “You just hope you beat those 5-percent odds.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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