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Roster overhaul doesn't diminish PHU's outlook

For Mike Gajdeczka, club soccer had lost its competitiveness. It just wasn't what it used to be. So this season, he turned to his Palm Harbor Universityteam, the Class 3A state champions.

"I wanted to come out and play good soccer," said Gajdeczka, a sophomore.

If club soccer wasn't tough enough, Gajdeczka now finds himself competing against three others to fill PHU's vacant goalie position. The Hurricanes, who were loaded with talent last year and finished 24-1-3, are trying to fill some sizable gaps after the loss of six players that were named first- or second-team all-county last season.

Coach Juan Pablo Pinzon lost his top two scorers, Craig Oakley and Mike Samson, who combined for 29 goals. And three standouts who were international exchange students have returned to Sweden. Of the eight players Pinzon lost, perhaps the most difficult to replace is goalie Matt Peterson.

"It was a tremendous loss," Pinzon said. "We're probably not going to score as many goals. That's why we have to keep out as many as possible."

For now, Gajdeczka appears to have won the starting job over another sophomore and two freshmen, but Pinzon will keep all four so they can push each other throughout the season.

Most of Palm Harbor's experience returns at midfield, a shift from last year's dominating front line.

"Our offensive power won't be as strong as it was last year, but I think our midfield strength will make up for that," Pinzon said.

Alex Delgado, a senior who plays center-midfield, said that despite the team's losses, he thinks the Hurricanes will be fine.

"I think this year I'm more of a playmaker on the team, creating scoring opportunities," Delgado said.

Pinzon kept his largest squad ever, 31 players including 13 newcomers, in order to prepare for seasons to come.

"You can't just play for this year," he said.

With players in new positions adjusting to new responsibilities, Pinzon knows he is asking players to bring something different this year.

"I know that people can do it," Pinzon said. "They just have to understand in their own mind that's the role they have to fill."