Home Opener for West Virginia Highlanders Slated for Saturday
WHEELING — Although the West Virginia Highlanders have only been a soccer club for about three months, the pre professional team is ready to take the field as it makes its home debut on Saturday at J.C. Chambers Memorial Field.
The Highlanders play in the Ohio Valley Premier League, which is a regional league that stretches from Pittsburgh to Louisville. It involves teams out of cities of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Louisville and also includes a team from Indianapolis.
“The idea is we want to put this on to bring some top level soccer to Wheeling through the summer,” Highlanders General Manager/coach Ryan Wall said. “And we think it would be an excellent showcase and good fun for people to come and see the games.”
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. as the Highlanders are set to battle the Cincinnati Swerve.
The Highlanders also have seven guys from Wheeling that are playing on the team. They also have a plethora of athletes from local universities such as Wheeling University, West Liberty University and Robert Morris.
“We pulled some of the top college players at the local universities and we also combined it with the top high school players in the city that played for Wheeling Park. Our roster ranges from 16 to 28. That’s the kind of demographic,” Wall said.
Those Wheeling natives include West Virginia Boys Player of the Year Coleman Meredith, Alexander Canestraro, Brody Wall, Clay Meredith, Dannen Foraker, Jason Pennybacker and Taylor McFarland.
Wellsburg’s Josh Ferguson is also on the roster as well as Belmont’s Nathan Thornburg.
“Essentially, we only registered the club about three months ago,” Wall said. “It’s our first time through and the league is only two years old. It’s a new regional league, but it’s really high-level. We call it pre-professional because it’s already a showcase for some of the players that are already in college to be seen by professional team scouts. That’s one of the things we put out there.”
Ashton Farnsworth, Bernardo Vilchis, Braulio Vilchis, Danilo Tavares, Gerardo Sarmiento and Vitor Otsuka are current West Liberty players while Carlos Molina, Lucas Fievet, Miguel Martin, Richard Afolanyanka and Troy McAuliff play for Wheeling.
Aitor Ruiz de Eguilaz and Noah Elamin are the Robert Morris players. Enrique Pinanez, Fernando Alverez, Mohammedi Alkhateeb, Roberto Lopez and Salih Mohammad round out the roster.
“I’m expecting us to come away with a win and put on a good show,” Wall said. “We have a very talented group of players. I have about 28 guys, so it’s a very deep roster. When we do get everyone there and everyone present and healthy, expectations for the season is to have a solid season and to have solid winning results.”
The Highlanders tied their first game of the season 1-1 against Croatia Cleveland, but fell in their second game 2-0 to the Columbus Blast.
“From what I see, this team provides a couple of functions,” Wall said. “No. 1 is our top college aged players provide a platform to showcase them to potential professional-level opportunities. But for our younger guys looking to play in college, is also a great venue for them to showcase themselves for college coaches.”
Brandon Regan also serves as coach for the Highlanders while J.J. Hawkshaw is an assistant coach. West Liberty University men’s soccer coach Sean Regan helps with Youth Development & Recruitment. Wheeling University men’s coach James Regan is the Technical Director of Soccer.
“This is a Wheeling-based team really competing with areas that essentially have 10 times the population, sometimes 20 or 30 times,” Wall said. “We’re doing that because I’ve got really good connections in the soccer community. The head coaches of Wheeling University and West Liberty are also involved in this club with me. Because of our deep relationships and the background of the game at the collegiate level, we were able to pull together a good squad and also include Wheeling players.”