Each of the last two seasons Carthage’s boys’ soccer team has finished as the Class 2 state runner up. Both times the Tigers lost to St. Dominic in the championship game.

Each of the last two seasons Carthage’s boys’ soccer team has finished as the Class 2 state runner up. Both times the Tigers lost to St. Dominic in the championship game.

As a result of that recent success, numbers are up for the program this fall. Head coach Jacob Osborne had to cut 21 players from the squad, the most ever.

“The most I’ve ever had to cut before this was maybe six,” he said after Wednesday’s practice. “Everybody wants to be a part of it and they’re willing to do what it takes to be a part of it. It raises everybody’s level.”

That leaves nearly 40 players on the squad, and despite the numbers, the Tigers don’t exactly return a lot of experience. Thirteen members of last year’s 24-5 team were seniors. Only five starters are back, and also six others who saw playing time but didn’t start.

The two biggest returnees were both named to the All-State teams last year. Hector Marin, a junior, was a first team All-State player as a midfielder. Senior Jessy Alvarado earned second team honors as a defensive mid/center back.

“We’ve got two very good building blocks and the other returners are solid players who will have to play a bigger role this year,” Osborne said.

Though he was just a sophomore in 2013, Marin assumed a leadership role on the team. That has continued this preseason.

“He’s become more vocal,” Osborne said. “He’s definitely more of a vocal leader for us. Jessy, he’s a player that leads by example. He’s usually towards the front on all of our runs, and he practices and plays hard.”

Whether or not this fall proves to be a rebuilding season or one in which the Tigers just reload for another playoff run remains to be seen. Even Osborne isn’t sure yet how things will play out. The team has talent, but it will depend on how players make the adjustment from junior varsity to varsity, and there are also two freshmen on the varsity team.

“It’s going to be which players get used to the speed of play, how fast it is, how physical it is and them just gelling as a unit,” Osborne said. “If everything goes perfect I think we’ll be very good, but everything going perfectly, I can’t predict that. If things don’t go perfect then yeah, it could be a rebuilding year.”

Carthage has eight home games scheduled, and seven on the road, as well as tournaments at Parkview, Kickapoo and in St. Louis at the Gateway Classic. The season begins Saturday with a home game against Monett. Like last year, they’ll team up with Smithville and Jefferson City Helias for a pair of games; this year in Jefferson City. Both teams are typically final four contenders in Class 2, and Springfield Catholic is also a part of the weekend games in October, though they play Carthage earlier in the season and won’t match up at Helias. Last season the Tigers beat Smithville but lost to Helias. When Jeff City and Carthage met in the state quarterfinals, the Tiges won.

“We were ready because of that previous meeting,” Osborne said.

Springfield Central has dropped Carthage from its schedule this year, but the Tigers will now play St. John Vianney out of St. Louis. That school is perennially in the top five or 10 in the state’s biggest class, and it contacted Springfield Glendale for a game.

“Their coach wanted someone else in the area who could possibly give them a game and Glendale’s coach recommended us,” Osborne said. “I’m excited for it. It’ll be fun, a great learning experience.”

That contest will be at Glendale in October.

The biggest change with Carthage’s soccer team this fall is a completely new offensive and defensive system. Defensively the Tigers are moving to a flat back four as opposed to the diamond back, with a sweeper in the very back who cleans things up, they’ve run previously.

“The diamond back, in high school soccer, that’s common,” Osborne said. “Professionally that’s all you’ll see is flat four, and in college that’s about all you’ll see. There’s less space to exploit with it and offensively when you do have the ball if you’ve got players who are skilled enough your outside backs can join the attack a little bit and that’s a dimension we’ve never had. Offensively, it’s completely different. It’s a little confusing, honestly; it can be.”

Only one other team in this part of the state runs a variation of the offensive system, and two years ago, when Carthage had a state title game-caliber team, the Tigers struggled to defend it and allowed four first-half goals. Osborne is keeping specifics under wraps for now.

It’s a system he’s been curious about for at least four years, but he said he hasn’t had the courage to make all the switches and adjustments. It’s a more advanced system and is harder to pick up.

“Getting it in now while some of these younger kids are here, now is as good a time as any,” he said. “I think it gives us flexibility on both sides. It gives us a little bit better chance to take that next step.”