By Bob Narang

Centralia senior Edoardo Riva didn’t let a few hundred miles stop him from taking a step toward reaching his dream of playing college soccer.

Riva, who is an exchange student from Italy, traveled nearly 300 miles to attend the 2017 PepsiCo Showdown College Showcase at The Max in McCook back in late November.

While the distance was nothing compared to his journey from his homeland to the U.S., the goalie left Centralia at 5:30 a.m. to arrive at the first-class facility just off the Stevenson Expressway outside of Chicago.

Although he was tired from the early morning travel day, Riva said he cherished attending the packed event.

“I’m glad that I came, because it’s a good chance for me to play against other Americans from different places,” Riva said. “I’m trying to get a scholarship and stay in America. It’s a good experience, and I hope to keep playing. It’s been fun.”

The 15th Annual PepsiCo Showdown College Showcase was a one-day event featuring boys and girls high school players from Illinois hoping to attract the attention of college coaches in attendance.

Athletes played three games, took part in a goalie combine and also tested their overall speed skills in a 30-yard dash and shuttle run combine to attract the attention from college coaches in attendance.

Each team is managed by a high school coach, and teammates taking part are placed on different teams to avoid having high school teammates playing together.

“College coaches want to see how players react to different situations,” said Joe Trost, who is the managing director of the PepsiCo Showdown. “When you go off to college, you’re most likely going to be playing with players you’ve never played with before.

“How quickly can you adapt? How do you make the other players around you better? Are you a leader on the field, and do you have the people skills to engage your teammates right away?

“No one cares who scores the most goals in an event like this. The focus is moving without the ball, one-touch passes, seeing the space and doing the little things that jump out to college recruiters looking to fill a spot this year or for upcoming classes.”

The goalie skills combine, run by the esteemed Stan Anderson of Camp Shutout, is a big hit for netminders in attendance. Anderson, a renowned goalie coach for more than 30 years, said the annual showcase is a must-attend event for soccer players – especially for those in the Chicago area.

“I try and help the goalkeepers perform on the day and get them better,” Anderson said. “Hopefully they have a good time and get some exposure in front of college coaches.”

Watching the event from the balcony at The Max, Catlin native Dennis Rogers said his son, Dawson, was attending the showcase for the second year in a row.

Dawson Rogers, a junior midfielder at Salt Fork High School, is an aspiring college player. Dennis Rogers said the exposure at the annual showcase is well worth the long drive.

“Dawson is really looking forward to playing in college,” Dennis Rogers said. “He’s a good student, and he’s doing what he needs to do to get to the next level.

“This (event) helps him a lot. He gets some exposure that we wouldn’t normally get from a small town. This is another way for him to get exposure at a camp and maybe he’ll receive invites to other places. It’s worth the time to bring him up here to get that exposure.”

Trost said there has been a push by high school and college coaches – along with parents – to add another event like this during the year, but that won’t be happening anytime soon.

“Everyone working is volunteering,” Trost said. “We have high school and college students doing community service hours, and we raise money to help fund some of the Buddy’s HELPERS charitable and community service events throughout the year.

“There are some coaches and parents who consistently ask to have another event like this, because this always takes place the day after Thanksgiving. But we do that on purpose, because this is an event that attracts players from all over Illinois and they can travel over this weekend.

“The size of the event is maxed out each year, and we purposely closed registration to control roster sizes. We’ve done surveys with players, coaches and parents, and the event is great now.

“We’ll make a few adjustments here and there, like we do with everything every year. But it’s a one-day, once-a-year event, and that’s the way we want to keep it for the foreseeable future.”

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