McNary junior midfielder Johann Singh Sanchez (8) was a second-team all-league performer for the Celtics last season (File).

After posting a 7-3-2 record during the shortened spring season, McNary boys soccer coach Miguel Camarena is exhilarated for his team to be able to play a full schedule this fall.

“It feels like we are alive. You can see the smiles on the field and all the emotions that this sport brings,” Camarena said. “We are excited to see more of a normal season.”

Despite graduating their top scorer in Eddie Martinez — who was a first-team all-league selection with nine goals and 11 assists on the year — the Celtics bring back a lot of firepower in the midfield.

Juniors Hudson Brunk, Johnny Bravo and Johann Singh Sanchez all received all-league recognition as sophomores last season and are expected to be three of the top players in the Mountain Valley Conference (MVC). 

“I believe we will have the best midfielders in the league,” Camarena said. 

Senior Max Baez and juniors Oscar Chavez and Fisher Vanslyke also got some minutes in the midfield last season. With loads of talent and experience in one position group, Camarena plans to have a handful of his midfielders move up to forward during certain times to increase goal-scoring chances.

“Any of our midfielders could move up and play forward and score more goals for us,” Camarena said.

One forward that Camarena is setting high expectations for is senior Axel Zapien Sanchez, who is returning to the soccer field after playing football last year.

“I’m hoping he can be a guy that will score a lot of goals for us,” Camarena said.

The Celtics had multi-goal games in seven of their 14 contests last season, but Camarena wants to put even more of an emphasis this year on finishing when they get opportunities. 

“I'm not concerned if we are missing goals, but I am concerned if we aren't creating opportunities. But we need to put a focus on finishing. We score a lot of goals, but we also miss a lot of goals. So it will be a focus of ours. Our coaches will be putting in a lot of work with our forwards to make sure we are finishing,” Camarena said. 

While McNary has several veterans in the midfield, the same can not be said for the back line. After losing all-league defenders Jose Martinez and Miguel Gaytan, the Celtics will be thin on defense and will rely upon sophomore Tony Bravo and senior Carlos Sanchez on the back line. 

“That is going to be a challenge. The defenders we have don't have a lot of experience so one of the main things we need to do is work on our formation and get lots of repetitions so we can get used to where we need to be and what we will be looking for,” Camarena said. “We also need to continue working on possession. When you have the ball, most of the time, the opposing team has little chance to do something against us.”

After splitting time in the net last year with Miguel Orduna, sophomore keeper Emerson Carella will take over as the main goalie for the Celtics.

While there are question marks at some positions, Camarena believes there is enough talent on this roster for the Celtics to compete for a MVC title and head back to the playoffs — McNary has qualified for the last four state playoffs but has been bounced in the first round each time. 

“We strive for excellence and we are excited about what we have. I think we will be able to surprise a lot of people this year,” Camarena said. “Our goal is to win the conference and play with confidence.”

McNary opens their season by hosting Nelson on Tuesday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. 

Matt Rawlings: [email protected]