The Rolla High School boys' soccer team may be traveling to Carthage, Mo. on Saturday.
But Bulldog head coach Mike Howard told his squad to be ready for a Mexico City-type soccer experience.
Rolla plays in Carthage Saturday against the Carthage Tigers in Missouri Class 2 Quarterfinal action. The game is to begin at 2 p.m.
The Bulldogs enter 24-4 and ranked No. 4 in the final Class 2 regular season state poll. Carthage is 20-8 and ranked No. 9.
A Bulldog victory secures their first trip to the boys' soccer state tournament semifinals since 1993.
The Rolla-Carthage winner will meet the quarterfinal survivor between Windsor Imperial (12-11-1) and Lutheran South (21-5-1) in state semifinal action at 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16 in Blue Springs. The Class 2 third-place and championship games are slated for Blue Springs on Nov. 17, at 10 a.m. and noon, respectively.
A pair of shutouts in the sectional playoff round got Rolla and Carthage to Saturday. Rolla beat St. Francis Borgia 2-0 at home while Carthage handled Willard 5-0 in the sectional matchups on Tuesday.
Rolla is the highest-ranked team from the final regular-season state poll left on its side of the Class 2 bracket.
Rolla has won 14 district tournament championships in its 22-year history and have won five sectional games.
The Bulldogs have tied their single-season school record winning streak twice (10 games) this season. Currently RHS has won 20 of its last 21 games.
The Carthage Tigers got to the Missouri Class 3 Quarterfinals two years ago and, like Rolla, have made it to one Final Four (in 2004).
The Rolla-Carthage quarterfinal matchup is not a surprise – at least for the two opposing head coaches.
"That's what I was expecting," said Jacob Osborne, a former Carthage Tiger standout player who is in his fourth year as the program's head coach. "I thought it was a really good chance of both teams making it.
Because of that I kept an eye on how Rolla has done throughout the season."
"Of the Class 3 teams that dropped this year (to Class 2) I thought Parkway Central, Carthage and – I was hoping Rolla – would be there," said Howard, who has been Rolla's head coach every year except its inaugural season in 1990. "Then you try to figure out where you might meet."
And Howard has worried about Carthage since it was officially announced both clubs would be moving down to Class 2 for this fall.
Carthage has a rich soccer tradition with a unique backing. Last year the Tiger soccer team was the object of an ESPN feature, centering around the fact that the community's population was nearly 70 percent white while the boys' soccer team was 100 percent Latino. This year the Tigers' squad is again close to that 100 percent mark. And as part of that Carthage has drawn huge crowds that feature the loud, festive atmosphere that marks the Latino brand of the game.
Page 2 of 2 - "This is the one that has worried me the most," Howard said. "I know it's a tough place to play and I know they're a very good team. We've been piping in loud Spanish music we got from our Spanish teacher at our practices, trying to prepare our kids.
"You hope the kids won't get beat by the occasion. It's a cultural thing – I know there will be a lot of people there and I know it will be a party atmosphere; very different than what we usually play in."
The Tigers have a small, very quick squad. Leading Carthage offensively are senior forward Ismael Serratos (33 goals) and sophomore forward Victor Marin (18 goals).
Carthage junior keeper Jose Alberto has recorded 11 shutouts so far this season.
"They're going to be very technical," Howard said of Carthage. "They've grown up around this game and we've just got to go in and play the way we play; we can't change the way we play. We've got to keep the ball and be composed, relaxed and take advantage of our re-starts.
"Our advantage over there will be our size and our strength of re-starts. We've got to take advantage of that because we will be superior in the air."
Osborne agrees with that assessment.
"I know Rolla has real good size, good skill and are extremely dangerous on set spot free kicks," he said.
However, Osborne feels his team is peaking at the right time.
"I like to think we are," he said. "Starting out we were very inexperienced at the varsity level and it took a while to find ourselves. A month ago things really started to click for us."
Carthage will have to throttle the state's top goal scorer in Rolla junior forward Aaron Froehlich, who now has 66 goals and 13 assists.
Also for the Bulldogs junior forward Hunter Short has 14 goals and 21 assists; junior midfielder Logan Houf eight goals and 17 assists; senior midfielder Michael Janke three goals and 10 assists; senior back Matt Calvert four goals and nine assists; junior back Nathan Kramme three goals and nine assists, and junior midfielder Austin Parks four goals and five assists.
RHS junior keeper Gage Scurlock has seven shutouts in 2012.