Tim Almaguer pointed to the floor of the recreational center at Patterson Park, where his U-14 soccer team was practicing.
The players, members of the Patterson Park Panteras, were practicing hard, but smiling and enjoying themselves at the same time. You could see the fun they were having in their eyes.
“I don’t coach to win,” Almaguer said. “I coach for this kind of stuff. If you create this, you create winning.
But for this season at least, winning has become a habit. The Panteras, in their sixth season since Patterson Park took over the team from Our Lady of Pompei in 2006, are playing in the tough Central Maryland Soccer Association for the first time this year, participating in the B division in the fall 11-on-11 league.
The Panteras are undefeated in league play, sporting a perfect 6-0 record. They’ve put up some impressive scores against quality competition as well, with wins over Hickory LSC 7-0, Towsontowne 6-1, Soccer Without Borders 7-2, Lutherville/Timonium 4-3, Fallston 5-1 and Maryland Sports Unlimited 5-2.
The players, most of which are from Highlandtown, are pleased with their start to their season.
“We’re doing good so far, we’re undefeated,” said 13-year-old Noe Villalobos. “We have an incredible coach. We practice and we love playing.”
The Panteras feature kids from around the world in places such as Trinidad & Tobago, Mexico, Honduras and Bosnia.
“It’s a great melting pot,” Almaguer said. “There are a lot of kids with different backgrounds and different countries that come here and often time it’s the first time they get to meet different kids and play on the same field and become friends.”
The success the Panteras have experienced this fall stems from earlier success in the CMSA’s spring 8-on-8 league. The Panteras finished second this past spring with just one loss.
A lot of the players joined the Panteras due to word of mouth.
“I first started playing soccer when I was 8,” said Jonathan Aldana, member of the Panteras. “My friend got me in this team four years ago. I liked it because it helped me out because it’s gotten me much better.”
Some of the Highlandtown kids played neighborhood soccer with each other and therefore had a chemistry on the field before joining the team.
“That’s what good about this team,” Almaguer said. “Most of these kids know each other either from the neighborhood or from this team for many, many years. You see that in the way they play. They communicate more, they pass more and they’re bonding as a team. Quite frankly, that’s why they’re doing so well.”
Almaguer, who’s also an assistant soccer coach at Bryn Mawr School, said the players had skill coming in. It was a matter of getting them to learn the structure of soccer, such as strategies and alignments on the field.
“We communicate more,” Villalobos said. “We pass the ball more and we have good teamwork.”
There aren’t any structured leagues in Baltimore City, which is one of the many reasons Almaguer put the Panteras in the CMSA. With the team’s winning ways, Almaguer’s considering putting the group in the A league next season.
Right now, Patterson Park only offers a U-14 team that competes in the CMSA, but is hoping to field more teams in the near future. They do offer soccer clinics for other age groups.
There’s a great deal of soccer talent in Southeast Baltimore and the Panteras are a clear example.
“As soon as you teach them and create bonding and communication, it happens just like that,” Almaguer said.
Kelvin Amaya, Tahjai Kal-El Ellington, Jonathan Aldana, Brady Brooks, Angel Reyes, Juan Reyes, Marcos Caballero, Diego Serrano, Noe Villalobos, Kevin Villeda, Endy Gomez, Ronald Hayes, Alen Murselji, John Winebrenner, Austin Wolfe
by Jason Butt