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Mutiny on the brink

Rogue Valley Soccer Club all-star team must win Saturday to stay alive in the Oregon State Cup

Mail Tribune

The best of the best.

That "Top Gun" catch-phrase describes the Mutiny, an under-19 boys Rogue Valley Soccer Club team that has brought together Southern Oregon's most decorated players.

Head coach Dave Kaufman has perhaps the most heralded team, on paper, in Rogue Valley club history.

But sometimes the best individual talents aren't so great collectively.

As with the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers, the Mutiny has had problems blending, gelling, accepting roles and, generally, becoming a true team.

Following a 3-1 loss to FC Portland in Hillsboro on Sunday, the Mutiny faces a must-win match Saturday at Colver Field in Talent to advance to the semifinals of the Oregon State Cup. The Mutiny meets the Willamette Pride, a West Linn-based squad, at — p.m. on Saturday.

Players from seven different high schools - Ashland (four players), Klamath Union (four), South Medford (three), Hidden Valley (three), North Medford (two), Phoenix (one) and Grants Pass (one) - have converged to constitute the Mutiny.

Kaufman believes that diversity has been the source of some of the team's struggles.

"Even to this day, and they've been playing with each other for a while, when they're warming up, it's the KU boys warming up here, it's the Ashland boys warming up here, it's the Grants Pass boys warming up here," says Kaufman, a former Sonoma (Calif.) State and Medford/South Medford High goalkeeper. "It's not that they're cliquey, but that's where the comfort zone is."

A lack of familiarity with each other as teammates, rather than as opponents, and the transition from stars to parts of an all-star-laden team has also been difficult for many of the players.

"You can't just assume that if you get a bunch of good players together that you're automatically gonna have a great team," Kaufman says.

"It's funny with a group like this because you've got kids that within their little high-school setting are used to being the man. ... Well, out here, they're average. That's been a struggle for some of the kids, I know."

Pat Lower, a South Medford senior set to play soccer next fall at St. Mary's College in Moraga, Calif., admits the team's cohesion has been less than ideal.

"This is the first time we've really gotten all the best players in the region together," Lower says. "As far as gelling, that's something we need to improve."

Grants Pass senior Matt Lamont, a three-time first-team all-SOC selection at goalkeeper during his prep career, says the Mutiny's chemistry is a work-in-progress.

"It's a great group of guys," says Lamont, one of the four team captains. "There was not as much respect back when we started playing together as there is now."

The Mutiny went 5-3-2 in the Oregon Youth Soccer Association winter premier league and played in the Nomad's tournament in San Diego - one of the top tournaments in the country - during Spring Break. It has found the going rough against other top club teams, which, likewise, consist of players with glowing resumes.

A quartet has combined to make defense the Mutiny's strong point, in Kaufman's estimation.

Joining Lamont, the goalkeeper, have been Ashland's Alex Christlieb as the sweeper and South Medford's Cody George and Klamath Union's Jeff Teach as marking fullbacks.

Christlieb was a first-team all-SOC pick as a junior last fall, while George and Teach were both first-team performers as seniors.

"Defensively, we're solid," Kaufman says. "Cody and Teach are pretty suffocating. They don't give (forwards) any room. And if (opposing attackers) do get through, Alex is always right there."

George, who Kaufman describes as the team's most intense player - "Holy smokes, the kid eats nails with his Wheaties for breakfast," the coach says - and Christlieb, who has developed into the vocal leader, join Lamont and Luis Garcia as captains.

Offensively, the Mutiny has had a tough time creating goals.

Up front and in the midfield Kaufman has adopted a revolving-door approach.

Aside from Klamath Union's Garcia, the SOC's player of the year and a two-time first-team all-state selection, and Lower, a two-time all-SOC all-star, Kaufman says there are no concrete starters.

"Right now, you can't say we're gonna scare anybody offensively, but that's coming around," Kaufman says. "As with any team, that's always the last piece of the puzzle."

Beyond Saturday's game and the rest of the State Cup competition (a Cup championship would earn a trip to Salt Lake City for regionals), the Mutiny's schedule is up in the air. Kaufman would like to add other tournaments to the planned participation in Memorial Day Weekend's Rogue Valley Cup.

Most of the team's 14 seniors are still searching for someplace to play soccer next year, and this team is their last shot to showcase themselves for college coaches.

So time is running out for the Mutiny to prove itself a championship-caliber team, and in turn, help the players become more than area prep standouts.

Reach reporter Tim Pyle at 776-4483 or e-mail

Matt Lamont dives to deflect a shot during a recent Mutiny practice. Lamont, a Grants Pass High senior, earned first-team all-SOC recognition three times during his prep soccer career. - photo by Jim Craven