Staying away from injuries will be crucial this season for the East Central College soccer Falcons.
Benji Grimes’ team has 21 players signed for this season. Training starts Aug. 1.
“This team is mostly made of new players and is looking quite strong,” Grimes said. “We will have a busy preseason to see what we have and to see what our expectations are. My early expectations are taking a big step and claiming the regional title in the first year with this group. After that we will see where we are once we match up with some of junior colleges’ best teams from last year.”
• Juan Bolivar (South Broward High School, Hollywood, Fla.);
• Lewis Brass (Cardinal Hume Prep, Gateshead, England);
• Djibril Diop (McCluer);
• Tanner Harris (Pattonville);
• Flavian Hunter (South Broward High School, Hollywood, Fla.);
• Ralph Joseph (Fort Lauderdale High School, Fla., Mars Hill College, N.C., Broward College, Lauderhill, Fla.);
• Joel Konteh (Market Harborough High School, Leicester, England);
• Donald Meyer (Lutheran South);
• Amiru Ndiyae Pipio (Rutherford High School, Panama City, Fla.);
• Lattrell Smith (Granite City, Ill.);
• Aleksandar Stojov (Stven Sermac High School, Nis, Serbia);
• Billy Thompson (The School of Sheffield, Sheffield, England);
• Nicholas Jefferey Tosovsky-Heinemeier (Edwardsville, Ill);
• Rudy Gonzales (Carthage);
• Brayden Rogers (St. Clair);
• Tyler Newbold (Bellevue East, Bellevue, Neb.).
• Magnus Anderson (Koege, Denmark);
• Kai Bucciero (Harlingen Prep, London, England);
• Zachary Druhe (Granite City, Ill.); and
• Moises Aldana (Hall High School, Spring Valley, Ill.).
Three of last year’s standouts have gone on to four-year schools. All-American Jacob Moore signed with Oakland University. Darren Hamilton, a 2015 All-American, moved to Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. Forward Umoh Ufot signed with Rockhurst University.
Brass will compete with Aldana for the starting job in net.
“Here is a major signing for ECC,” Grimes said. “Lewis Brass has played as a professional keeper but didn’t get signed when he turned 18 recently and their loss is definitely our gain. This kid is going to be one of the best goalkeepers in the country and we were fortunate to sign him.”
Brass is from the Newcastle area and has extensive experience. During two seasons with Carlisle United (EFL League Two, then EFL League One) Brass went on loan several times, including to Celtic Nation, Durham City, Working Reds and Penrith.
Brass was the backup goalkeeper for Carlisle United Jan. 5, 2014, when it fell to Sunderland in the third round of the FA Cup.
Brass also has played for Gateshead.
Defenders are Bucciero, Druhe, Harris, Hunter, Meyer and Smith. Bucciero and Druhe are returners.
Smith, a right back, comes to the Falcons from Granite City High School and he also plays for the Gateway Rush club team.
For Granite City, he was a Southwestern All-Conference selection.
“He is very athletic and plays at a college level,” Grimes said. “He has speed and has good field vision.”
Grimes feels Smith is an excellent fit for the Falcons.
“The biggest thing that impressed me when I saw his team dismantle a good Scott Gallagher team was his communication on and off the ball,” Grimes said. “Most kids who get to college usually need a lot of work on communication, but he was very mature for his age. He is primarily a right back but we look at him on the wing or in center back.”
Andersen, Bolivar, Druhe, Konteh, Meyer, Ndiyae and Stojov are midfielders.
Andersen and Druhe are returners while the others are newcomers.
Grimes pointed out positives among the others.
Ndiaye, a forward, is a native of Spain and moved to Florida at the age of 15. He played in Liga Andaluz de Futbol in Spain and his teams won league titles four times. He was his team’s leading scorer five times and won his league’s golden boot three times.
After moving to Florida, he played for Rutherford High School and Bay United, scoring 17 goals and 10 assists last season as Rutherford won its first-ever district title and regional quarterfinal match. He netted the game-winning goals in both playoff contests and was named his team’s MVP.
For his efforts, Ndiaye was selected to the All-Bay County Team.
Grimes feels Ndiaye will make an immediate impact with the Falcons. At 6-0, 178 pounds, he’s got the size to be able to play a physical style which is prevalent in the MCCAC.
“Amiru was looking to go to junior college to play so that he can play right away,” Grimes said. “He didn’t want to sit at a four-year school waiting. I have spoken with Amiru a lot through the process and had a lot of very good junior colleges to choose from, including one from our region. We are thrilled he chose to come and play for us. I think he ads a special dynamic to our team and he is highly skilled one-on-one and has speed to get separation to create scoring opportunities. I think Amiru is going to be a big presence on the field.”
Stojov plays wing or attacking midfield and Grimes feels he adds in key areas to the Falcons. His best position is right wing and he scored seven goals and 10 assists for his team from that spot last season.
He has played for FK Radnicki and OFK Sindejelic in Nis, Serbia.
“Aleksandar Stojov is a very fit and crafty wing midfielder from Serbia,” Grimes said. “He has really good speed and plays balls in from the wing with great pace and accuracy.”
Grimes said Stojov’s best attribute is being calm under pressure.
“He will be a standout player moving the ball forward, especially under pressure,” Grimes said. “He is very tricky with the ball at his feet. He has played for a top side and finished third in the league.”
Up front, Diop, Joseph and Thompson are the main threats.
The latest signings are Tosovsky-Heinemeier, Gonzales, Rogers and New bold.
Tosovsky-Heinemeier has been a Scott Gallagher Academy player and he went on trial in Spain recently. He’s an attacking center midfielder.
Gonzales netted 29 goals last season for Carthage High School. Newbold is a defender who also played for Omaha DC.
Grimes said the team is working on another signing and that should be finished by the start of preseason training.
Andrei Ciot and Jindu Bolarinwa will remain at ECC this season and will be student assistant coaches. Bob Larkin, a former Truman State player, joins the staff as the main assistant coach. Jeremy Lasswell and Nathan Stephens will be volunteer assistant coaches.
Grimes said former East Central goalkeeper Lionel Brown, who played professionally for Fort Lauderdale, has been named a coach at South Broward High School in Florida and that could become another pipeline for future recruits.