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Wonders set for second act

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

In its inaugural season in the Premeire Development League, it became painfully clear that the Nevada Wonders soccer team just didn’t have enough firepower.

So with more time to prepare for its second year in the PDL, the Wonders made a concerted effort to upgrade its offense by going out and signing a number of midfielders and forwards. So the Wonders promise a more exciting brand of soccer this year when they open the season at 7 p.m. Saturday at Carson High against the Orange County Blue Star.

While the Wonders struggled to score last year and won just one game, they’re hoping to build on what they did at the end of the year when they became much more competitive. The Wonders believe they have a much more talented and deep team this year to be more competitive.

“We’ve got a lot of midfielders,” said head coach Paul Aigbogun, who returns from England to coach the Wonders for a second straight year. “Midfielders and strikers were our problem last year. We didn’t score enough goals obviously. Our style of play will be more attacking.”

The Wonders have added several Division I college players to this year’s roster, although they won’t be eligible until May 1. Aigbogun said there are 23 players on the roster and to start the year the Wonders will have about 15 players.

“Obviously it will get stronger when these players come in,” said Aigbogun about the team.

Aigbogun, who’s a defender, will technically again be a player-coach, but he hopes not to have to play nearly as much as he did last year. “Maybe at the beginning,” he said.

One of the top players to look for on this year’s Wonders’ team is midfielder Chris Blackburn, 21, who returns from last year’s Wonders club. Blackburn, from England, was arguably the Wonders’ best all-around player last year and should again be a team leader this season. “He was like a fans favorite for last year,” Aigbogun said.

Another much-anticipated addition is Renato Pereira, a 28-year-old defender from Brazil who has played Division I Brazilian soccer. Aigbogun, though, said Wonder fans will likely receive the chance to see Pereira for just a few games as European teams are interested in him. Blackburn, though, should be with the team the entire season, Aigbogun said.

Other returners include midfielder Mario Farfan, who has also played for the Reno Zephyrs and the Nevada Aces. There will be plenty of local flavor on the team, including Carson High graduate Landon Roser, 20, who was one of the team’s top defenders last year.

Two of the top Northern Nevada high school players from last year – Reed’s Anthony Grillo and South Tahoe’s Leon Abravanel, will also be on the team. Grillo, a midfielder, played with the Wonders last year.

Abravanel, another midfielder, led the Vikings to the NIAA 4A state title last year and has signed with the University of San Diego, a Division I school. Another former South Tahoe player, Alex Romagnoio, a 23-year-old midfielder, is also on the team.

Sixteen-year-old Carson High sophomore Loren Wooldridge, a midfielder, is on the team as well.

“It’s more of a developmental year to give him a look,” Aigbogun said. “He’s doing O.K. Obviously his age shows at times. He just needs to be pushed in the right direction. He can only improve.”

Several players from another Division I school, San Francisco, are on the roster. They include starters David Martin, a midfielder, and Mark Muleady, who is one of the nation’s top goalies.

Goalie is another talented position as there’s also Carlos Rengifo, a 30-year-old goalie from Colombia.

On defense, there’s Stacy Kodani, another starter at San Francisco. At forward will be 25-year-old NeNe Coulibaly of West Africa, 22-year-old Stanton Smith of the University of Charleston in West Virginia by way of South Africa and San Francisco’s Mikey Varas.

Thirty-year-old Rafael Leora, who has played for the Reno Zephyrs, Nevada Aces and Wonders, is another forward-midfielder.

Also at midfield is 25-year-old Geoffrey Scott, who played at San Diego State, and Sam Sneed, 22, who is from Sacramento State. In addition, there’s 29-year-old Gavin Duffy, a forward, who has played at Chico State and for the Zephyrs.

“Our goal is to do a lot, lot better than last year,” Aigbogun said. “I have a lot more hopes for this team this year.

“Obviously the other have teams have gone out and done better, too. It looks a lot better. It wouldn’t surprise me if we did do very well. I’m looking for us to have a winning season.”

Among the PDL’s top teams again should be the Fresno Fuego, who return 14 players from last year and have brought in some players from Mexico. The Fuego have already played Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy on even terms, losing to a Galaxy team that featured Cobi Jones 1-0.

Charles Whisnand is the Nevada Appeal Sports Editor. Contact him at chwisnand@nevadaappeal.com.