By Bob Narang

Prep Sports Report –

Althoff Catholic senior goalie Tyler Tieman called it a unique and fun experience.

A four-sport athlete, Tieman is not the traditional athlete.

Over his three-plus IHSA career, Tieman has played in a variety of venues. He’s a kicker in football, first baseman in baseball and shooting guard in basketball to go along with his duties in the net during the soccer season.

Despite that wide range of experience, Tieman was wide-eyed looking at the massive undertaking at the 19th Annual Showdown Series presented by PepsiCo at Olympic Park in Schaumburg.

“This is so cool, just coming here and playing new teams and getting us used to playing postseason-type games and close games,” Tieman said. “We wanted to make a name for St. Louis here. It’s so fun to play different teams and see new competition.”

Coach Skip Birdsong said his program jumped at the opportunity to play in the two-day showdown for the first time in the program’s history.

“We got an invitation, and I just had to rearrange some things on the schedule,” Tieman said. “I’m familiar with the (PepsiCo Showdown), so having the opportunity to come up this fall was definitely something we wanted to do.

“We moved some things around to make it work out. It’s been a good experience. The games will be what they are, but the rest of the things wrapped up in the Showdown are more memorable.”

The Crusaders, a Class 1A state contender out of Belleville, returns nine starters from last season and entered the PepsiCo Showdown with seven wins in their first eight games. Birdsong admitted some of his coaches and players were unfamiliar with many of the schools in this year’s event, but they welcomed the chance to represent St. Louis soccer against top teams from Chicagoland and contribute to Buddy’s HELPERS – the charitable and community service arm of the Showdown that uses the power of sport to engage and educate student athletes about different topics impacting their community and generation.

“Soccer in the St. Louis area has always been strong and is strong,” Birdsong said. “We get a lot of good competition, but it’s usually the same teams we normally see. It was nice to come up and see some teams we normally don’t play.

“We have a quality team with good balanced scoring. It’s a good group, with a lot of returners. The (PepsiCo Showdown) will help us and our kids can see the charity aspect and how important it is to help others.”

Senior midfielder Landon Welch noted he enjoyed playing at Olympic Park after playing in the complex during club season.

“This (event) is more like club than high school,” Welch said. “This was an opportunity to play bigger competition. Everyone was excited, even at 7 a.m. for the bus ride.”

Senior Mason Bunting pointed out that competing in the PepsiCo Showdown is another highlight in his career.

“It’s pretty exciting to come here,” Bunting said. “I’ve never seen a single team here, never heard of them, especially with us being from Downtown St. Louis.

“It was challenging. This is my last year playing soccer, so this was a good experience.”

Bio on reporter: Bob Narang has been covering prep recruiting and sports for the past 26 years. His work also appears in the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald and the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.