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Expectations ran high in Osan American Cougars soccer country entering the season after the boys’ runner-up finish in the 2006 Far East Class A tournament and the girls’ second consecutive title — their fourth in five years.

But having players miss games because of injuries or participation in other DODDS Far East activities such as Model United Nations, Honors Band and Junior ROTC conspired to bungle things up all season.

Despite the presence of returning All-Class A midfielder Carlos Albaladejo and senior transfer Thomas Chung from Zama American, Osan’s boys compiled a 5-5-5 record. Even with All-Far East strikers Sasha Gluzinski and Gina Bosworth returning, the Cougars girls tumbled to 4-13.

“This was a really weird season,” boys coach Tony Alvarado said. “It seemed to be one thing after another. It was rare that we had a full squad and when we did, they weren’t in sync.”

It was a far cry, Alvarado said, from what he and girls coach Sung Plourde had hoped for. But it was more than not knowing who they could count on from match to match.

Alvarado said he sensed that his players seemed content to glide at half-speed through the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference season, then put the pedal to the metal during the Class A tournament. The same thing happened during Osan’s 2005 title season, he said.

“My players had that attitude. It upset me,” he said, adding that his Cougars tied or beat at least once every team in KAIAC Division I except for league champion Seoul Foreign, before finishing third in the KAIAC tournament. Osan’s girls finished fifth.

Alvarado said he had “no doubt” that the boys could have reached the title match.

“It was ours for the taking. I know Sung had high expectations, too,” he said. “I wish we could get out of the mentality of just slogging through KAIAC and kicking it in when it really counts.”

Now that KAIAC is done and Class A is around the corner, the other half of that equation is starting to kick in, Alvarado said.

“It’s good now to see the intensity,” he said after Monday’s practice, in which the teams worked out together. “It has to start somewhere. It was good to see that team building.”

That by itself, he said, won’t guarantee that Osan will continue its recent title run. Case in point — Taegu American. The girls began the season 0-4-1 but closed it 6-3-1, including a 5-1 rout of Osan on April 6. Taegu’s boys went 1-11-2, but that ledger included a 2-2 tie that same day.

“They took it to us,” Alvarado said. “They had that attitude, ‘We’re not going to lose to Osan any more. We’re tired of losing.’ They wanted it more than we did.”

Should Osan stumble in the Class A tournament, at Penny Lake Fields 1 and 2 at Japan’s Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, other teams are more than ripe to fill their shoes, coaches of other teams said.

E.J. King’s boys rebounded from an 0-13-1 season to show signs of life at 4-8-3, including two victories and a tie in their last four matches. Most of the Cobras’ matches were against their DODDS-Japan Class AA brethren.

“They’re solid,” coach Tim Pujol of Class AA Yokota said, citing strikers Jon Green and Leif Bogen, strong defense and goalkeeper Demond Dean as reasons for the late rise. “They have all the parts to make a nice run.”

“They’re playing with confidence,” added coach Mark Lange of tournament host Matthew C. Perry. “You won’t get it past them often. They’ll make some noise at the end.”

After going a combined 1-36-1 with seven goals the past three seasons, Perry’s girls went 5-9-1, scoring 36 goals and even scoring a 3-2 victory at Class AA Zama American. As with E.J. King, most of the Samurai’s competition was against Class AA schools used to beating Perry by whopping margins.

“That’s been huge,” coach Chris Anderson said. “You’re playing teams stacked with talent and you’re right there with them. This is their time. It’s theirs for the taking.”

Perry lost two matches to Kinnick two weeks ago by scores of 2-0 and 2-1. This, after the Samurai came only as close as 5-0 last season and lost to the Red Devils regularly by double-digit margins since 2004.

“If they play the ball that they played against us, they’ll turn some heads at Far East,” Kinnick coach Nico Hindie said, citing Taylor Dunphy (17 goals), Heather Hyson (10 goals, 11 assists) and goalkeeper Kate Cutshall as keys.

The Taegu girls’ record is somewhat misleading, coach Ed Thompson said — the Warriors played twice against Seoul American and Seoul Foreign at the beginning of the season before facing foes more their own size. Taegu tied powerful Taejon Christian International 1-1 late in the season, then lost to the Dragons 2-1 in the KAIAC tournament third-place match.

“We peaked at KAIAC,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, we can continue that momentum at Far East.”

Class A boys & girls

Dates: May 21-23.Host: Matthew C. Perry High School.Site: Penny Lake Fields 1 and 2, Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, Japan.

Participating teams: Osan American Cougars, Osan Air Base, South Korea (boys champions in 2005, girls champion in 2002, ’03, ’05 and ’06); Taegu American Warriors, Camp George, South Korea; Matthew C. Perry Samurai, Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, Japan; E.J. King Cobras, Sasebo Naval Base, Japan; Korea Kent Foreign Scorpions (boys only), Seoul; Yongsan International-Seoul Guardians (boys champions in ’06); Korea International Phoenix, Pangyo, South Korea; Indianhead International Wolverines (boys), Uijeongbu, South Korea; Hiroshima International Cranes, Hiroshima, Japan.

Returning All-Far East players: Boys — Carlos Albaladejo, Osan American; Torian Whetstone, Taegu American; Budislav Soskic, Korea Kent Foreign; Yousif Gibreel, Yongsan International-Seoul. Girls — Sasha Gluzinski, Gina Bosworth, Osan American; Kay Husler, Taegu American (with Pusan American in 2006).

Format: Single round-robin, two pools, four teams in each pool, 30-minute halves, five-minute intermission, ties settled by penalty-kick shootout, first 1½ days. Mercy rule applies; matches end when a team leads by six goals, regardless of time remaining. Single-elimination with consolation bracket last 1½ days, 40-minute halves, 10-minute intermission. Ties settled by two five-minute “golden goal” sudden-death overtime periods with two-minute intermission, followed by penalty-kick shootout, if necessary.

Schedule: Opening ceremony 6 p.m. Sunday at Matthew C. Perry gymnasium. First boys pool-play matches at 8 a.m. Monday. Last girls pool-play matches at 7:30 p.m. Monday; last boys pool-play matches at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. First girls playoff matches at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday; first boys playoff matches at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Wednesday's championship matches at noon for girls and 2 p.m. for boys. Post-tournament All-Star games at 4 p.m. for girls, 5:30 p.m. for boys, followed by tournament awards ceremony and barbeque.

Awards: Trophies to top three teams, banner and individual awards to champion, individual MVP, Golden Boot, 15-player All-Tournament team for boys, 12-player All-Tournament team for girls. Two players from each team selected for All-Star matches.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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