By Bob Narang

The 16th Annual PepsiCo Showdown Boys is a high school sporting event unlike any other, featuring 64 high schools, 2,000 boys soccer players, more than 175 communities and nearly 130 games in a 14-day span.

And to top it off, all of those schools and players are at Inwood Soccer Complex in Joliet on back-to-back Saturdays – starting with 32 games on Sept. 8 for Opening Day – and finishing with a massive celebration on Sept. 23 at Robert Morris University’s Sports Complex in Arlington Heights for Championship Saturday.

This fall, PepsiCo Showdown boys players also will make a difference in the lives of 64 children from military families. Each event, the PepsiCo Showdown brackets are named after a local charity/nonprofit to bring awareness, engagement and exposure to that cause. This time, however, the brackets are named after the U.S. Armed Forces: U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and National Guard.

Let’s meet the U.S. Coast Guard BRACKET OF THE 2018 PEPSICO SHOWDOWN BOYS (CHICAGO): Miss the LIVE seeding show? CLICK HERE to see coverage. 

The teams, the seeds: Elgin St. Edward (1), Lincoln-Way East (2), Crystal Lake Central (3), Stagg (4), Juarez (5), Proviso East (6), Hinsdale South (7), Riverside-Brookfield (8), Back of the Yards (9), Fenton (10), Joliet Central (11), Eisenhower (12), Farragut (13), Marine Leadership (14), Jones Prep (15) and Bulls Prep (16). CLICK HERE to see the bracket.

Top players: St. Edward goalie Evan Sajtar and forward Josh Johansen; Crystal Lake Central goalie Joseph Perez; Jones midfielder Stephen Pavkovic; Back of the Yards midfielder Ivan Garcia; Proviso East midfielder Brian Chaidez; Stagg midfielder Sebastian Dzuibek; Farragut midfielders Javier Olague and Mario Guerra; Lincoln-Way East forwards Jackson Seida and Ryan Corydon.

Top teams: Although St. Edward entered the season without reigning PepsiCo Showdown MVP A.J. Franklin, who scored 70 goals last season, the Green Wave aren’t lowering the bar for the 2018 season. They placed third in Class 1A last season, and scored 19 goals in their first three games this season. Goalie Evan Sajtar is back and allowed just one goal in the opening three games. Last season, he tallied 13 shutouts and 113 saves in 29 games.

Crystal Lake Central is coming off a five-win season, but the return of senior goalie Joseph Perez and junior midfielder Jairo Aguilar is a reason for optimism. Crystal Lake Central coach Jay Schwarzrock is back to lead the program after a seven-year hiatus. He previously coached the team from 2001-2010.

Dark horse team: Proviso East. Compiling a 3-1 record at the PepsiCo Showdown last season, the Pirates are looking to take it a step up this season. Midfielder Brian Chaidez and goalie Edurado Bonilla give Proviso East coach David Moss plenty of reasons to expect a solid showing this season.

“We will be better than last year,” Moss said. “Brian is the best player we have had in some time.”

Interesting note: Back of the Yards is a relative newcomer to the big-time soccer scene. Starting its fifth official year as a school, Back of the Yards, a Chicago-based program, is building a solid base with 66 players overall in its program. Senior midfielder Ivan Garcia, a four-year varsity player, is a foundation player while junior defender Leobardo Garcia is starting his second year on the varsity.

“We’re hoping to be better than 2017, but some of the challenges will be the lack of experience of this young and talented core group of boys that love the game of soccer,” Back of the Yards coach Aaron Ortiz said. “We joined the PepsiCo Showdown because it gives us an opportunity to allow the boys to play against schools that they wouldn’t have played during the Chicago Public School League or even the IHSA state tournament.”

Did you know: Marine Leadership entered unknown territory this season. In its sixth year of existence, coach Vincent Tipre noted this is the first year that players who attended in seventh grade are now seniors, so it’s the first chance to see a six-year program at work. They’ll be leaning on junior midfielder Clever Zambrano, who scored 16 goals and tallied nine assists last season, and junior forward Esteban Rojas to be productive players, while senior defender and captain Roger Rojas is a key leader.

“Roger is a very gritty player who will sacrifice his body for the team,” Tipre said.

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