Success came quickly for LILA boys soccer squad

Opponents had reason to fear the LILA Dragons boys soccer team in 2016.
Opponents had reason to fear the LILA Dragons boys soccer team in 2016.

Coaches hope to grow program in years ahead

As the Lakes International Language Academy finds its footing in the field of athletic competition, there are bound to be some growing pains. Mixed results would be expected for any program that has only just started offering sports and does not yet have a full complement of athletic facilities on campus.

One Dragon team that experienced no difficulties, however, was the boys soccer team. The Dragons, led by co-head coaches Ryan Beagan and Victor Pintado, struck fear into most of their opponents this year, finishing an eight-game season with a record of six wins, one loss and one draw – though even that one loss, to Brooklyn Park, came under questionable circumstances.

“We didn’t have refs, so Brooklyn Park asked the high schoolers to be the refs,” Pintado said. “They didn’t call offsides – our kids were used to playing with all the rules.”

With proper refereeing, the Dragons beat Brooklyn Park a week later.

The great results came partly as a result of the high interest in soccer at the academy: 31 boys, mostly of middle-school age, came out to play last fall, more than double the number that came out in 2015, LILA’s first year sponsoring sports.

“The first year, we had three subs if all the guys were there,” Beagan said. “The interest exploded.”

The Dragons gave opponents the boot, going 6-1-1.
The Dragons gave opponents the boot, going 6-1-1.

There was so much interest in soccer that LILA could have split its program into two teams.

“We had to decide if we wanted to split, or just have one very good team,” Pintado said. “We all talked and the players shared their thoughts, and we decided to have one team.”

“It worked out well,” Beagan said. “We did rotations and everybody got a lot of playing time.”

Beagan and Pintado think they will be able to form a second team in 2017 as the roster numbers, like the LILA athletic program as a whole, continue to grow. With large numbers of middle school players set to move on to the upper school, a LILA high school squad is likely to form in the near future.

With no soccer field on either campus, all the Dragons’ games were played away. Getting a home field at LILA is the coaches’ biggest goal for the upcoming season.

“Once we get (a field), we can play way more games; we’ll have a home,” Pintado said. “That will be the first step. We have the space, so we are trying to get a field so we can start growing up.”

A set of soccer goals arrived at LILA recently, spurring hope that the field can be ready by the fall.

LILA is not yet a member of the Minnesota State High School League or any athletic conference, which meant the team played whoever was willing to give them a game, whether from middle schools, charter schools or local clubs.

“We played anyone we could,” Beagan said.

Membership in MSHSL is likely a few years away for LILA.

“We’ll be club for a while, but eventually I’m sure we’ll break into (the high school league),” Beagan said.

Beagan, a paraprofessional who has worked at both the lower and upper campuses, is a native of Golden Valley and a graduate of Robbinsdale Cooper High School, where he played hockey and lacrosse. He hadn’t played soccer since he was a student but took it up again at LILA. He coached the team alone in 2015 while Pintado worked out some visa issues.

Pintado, a first-grade teacher at LILA, came to the United States four years ago. A native of soccer-mad Spain, Pintado first arrived in Minnesota through a cultural exchange program.

“In Spain, we don’t have baseball or hockey, but we are good soccer players,” Pintado, a fan of Real Madrid, said.

Pintado has played or coached soccer most of his life and jumped at the chance to help lead the nascent LILA program.

Both men speak fluent Spanish, Beagan having learned the language through his own elementary school experience at a similar language academy. Most of the coaching is done in English, though some of it is done in Spanish, particularly for the benefit of players who grew up in Central America.

Pintado and Beagan both hope to stick with the program in the years to come to help the team grow and thrive.

“I think it’s important for us to continue with this project, since we were here in the beginning,” Pintado said.

“We want to keep building it up,” Beagan said.

The Dragon team – or possibly two – will return to the field when the 2017 fall semester begins.