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: Army, Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and National Guard.

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


The teams, the seeds: Oswego (1), Woodstock (2), Soto (3), Timothy Christian (4), Young (5), Lincoln-Way East (6), Huntley (7), West Chicago (8), Kelly (9), Fenwick (10), Romeoville (11), Bloom (12), Rockford East (13), St. Viator (14), Wheaton South (15) and Thornton (16). CLICK HERE to see the bracket.

Top players: Oswego forward Omar Carreno and defender Johnny Kramer; West Chicago Alonso Salinas; Bloom goalie Nick Salinas and defender Alex Mariano; Timothy Christian Isaiah Whitaker and Matt Van Zeelt; Woodstock midfielder Caleb Warmbier; Soto defender Jose Rodriguez; Young midfielder Jake Gerenraic; Saint Viator forward Will Hartman; Huntley midfielder Brandon Ruffner; and Thornton goalie Jose Lopez.

Top teams: Led by forward Omar Carreno (25 goals, 13 assists in 2017) and defender Johnny Kramer, Oswego has enough firepower to top last season’s 15-4-2 record. Woodstock beefed up its schedule following a memorable 23-1 season that ended with a 3-2 loss to Lakes in a Class 2A sectional semifinal. Coach Matt Warmbier’s crew is coming off its first regional title since 1994 loaded with talent, including Caleb Warmbier, Jose Jose Tolentino, Oscar Escorza, Ryan Azzaline and MacLean Buckley. In all, Woodstock brings back nine starters for a program with 40 wins in the last two seasons.

“Caleb is the workhorse and the leader of the team,” Matt Warmbier said. 

Timothy Christian welcomes a new coach in Joel Zielke, who will be without graduated star players Jimmy Allen and Mike Martens. But the Trojans’ cupboard isn’t completely bare with star goalie Nick Johnson and a host of talented juniors among 11 returnees aiming for a Class 1A state title. Isaiah Whitaker and Matt Van Zeelt were named captains Timothy Christian.

“We have high expectations for the 2018 campaign,” Zielke said. “We have an experienced group with 11 players from last year’s roster, including nine starters. Isaiah Whitaker is the key, his engine keeps running. He plays the game at 110 percent for the full 80 minutes.” 

Huntley is a team to watch in this bracket, led by Brandon Ruffner, Alex Solis, Noah Michael, Rory Hicks, Josh Guyer and Sam Bellantuono, the Red Raiders definitely have experience following a 8-14 season.

Lincoln-Way East is off to a fast start. Led by junior forwards Jackson Seida, Ryan Corydon, Cory Pitlik and senior goalie Victor Porada, the Griffins are relying on a stingy defense to carry them early this season.

Dark horse team: West Chicago. The Wildcats return plenty of talent from last season’s 10-win team. Despite a tough schedule, West Chicago welcomes back top player Alonso Salinas, along with Oscar Alanis, Jesse Hernandez, Diego Cortes and Roberto Medina.

“We return the majority of our players and starting lineup, and we feel our newcomers will be impact players right away,” West Chicago coach Jose Villa said. “Alonzo is a player that does everything we ask of him and more. He’s a great leader and his peers respect him. He’s a great kid for the program.”

Interesting note: Bloom doesn’t have to look very far to embrace its school colors. The Blazing Trojans are playing on an entirely new blue turf field. The school went away from the traditional green color and installed blue FieldTurf this summer with a giant “Bloom” headlining the center of the field. Bloom needed to receive clearance from Boise State University to use the color. Boise State has a patent on the installation of any colored turf other than green.

“The blue is phenomenal,” Bloom coach Zack Radtke said. “It’s an incredible thing.”

Did you know: Kelly coach Alex Cruz entered new territory this season as the leader of a program. Kelly, which is located on South California Ave. in Chicago, isn’t short on numbers – not with 21 varsity players and 55 total among three levels. Cruz said he’s relying on senior midfielder Hector Rabadan, senior goalie David Gutierrez and junior defender Saul Leyva to lead his team.

“This season looks better than last,” Cruz said. “Our training has been going great, and the kids are more energized and ready for this season. We have a great mix of new players and experienced players. Saul is the worker. He does not tire and inspires his teammates. He pushes them and keeps everyone laughing and enjoying the day.”

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