central goal

Champaign Central soccer's new goal tender, at Franklin Field in Champaign on Wednesday, August 21, 2019.

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CHAMPAIGN — Steven Cho spent the last two seasons with the Champaign Central boys’ soccer team filling the role of goalie on the Maroons’ junior varsity team.

He also was the backup to standout keeper Peter Wagner.

Generally, that would make Cho the obvious favorite to move into the top role following Wagner’s jump up to Division I soccer at Illinois-Chicago.

But Cho is getting back into the netminding groove after spending his summer in South Korea, where he’s lived at different times in his life.

Combine that with third-year Central coach Nick Clegg having three other goalies on the Maroons’ roster and Cho wasn’t guaranteed anything — not even a varsity roster spot for his senior season.

Until this past Wednesday.

“He officially made the team about one minute before you talked to him,” Clegg said following a Wednesday afternoon practice at Franklin Field. “He’s just finishing up his third tryout.”

Clearly, it was a success.

Cho now will get first crack at filling the Wagner-sized hole for the Maroons in 2019, beginning this Wednesday with a 6 p.m. home match against St. Thomas More.

As evidenced by Wagner securing D-I college interest, the former News-Gazette All-Area first-team selection was a force stopping shots.

He made 128 saves his senior year, good for a .795 percentage, while keying Central to its first regional title since 2007.

“I have big shoes to fill,” Cho said. “I’m still nervous, but I’m still trying my best.”

Cho first began playing soccer in kindergarten, but not long after he dropped the sport until about middle school.

His initial position was on the wing. When he returned to soccer, while in Korea, “my footwork wasn’t the same, so my friends put me in goal.”

Cho found goaltending instructors hard to come by in Korea, but eventually got some assistance.

“I had a good coach who focused on both goalie and the field,” Cho said. “So I had time to practice, and I try to repeat what I do every day — things like catching a ball or diving left and right. I try to practice that every day, nonstop.”

That has also developed back in the U.S. since Cho joined the Maroons’ roster as a sophomore and began working with goalie coach Nathan Song.

“Song talks a lot about how much Steven knows,” Clegg said. “Steven clearly already had the background of playing a lot of keeper because the fundamentals were there that he could skip all these things the other goalies had to go through (in practice).”

Clegg said some of Cho’s strong points in net include “very quick reactions” and the ability to make highlight-reel saves look easy.

Those elements definitely tie into what Cho feels it his best facet of the job.

“The one I’m confident with is the 1 on 1,” Cho said. “Because I’ve been hit in the face so many times that I feel confident I can just dive for (the ball) now.”

A stop is a stop, though, and Cho will be tasked with snagging as many as possible for a Central squad trying to build off last year’s 21-5 record and Class 2A sectional final appearance.

Cho was itching to return to the United States during his time overseas, in order to be at his best when the time came for Clegg to determine his new starting keeper.

“I didn’t have much chance to play,” Cho said. “I’ve been thinking about it every day when I was in Korea, like what if I mess up or what if I make a big mistake in front of a big audience.

“But I like to put those aside for a second when I’m on the field, just practicing, and work on my skills.”

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).