Riverside Coras is off to an incredible start to the 2017 NPSL season, steamrolling their opponents en route to a perfect 3-0-0 record and a +9 goal differential. Much can be said about the team’s improvement across the board, but a lot of the credit should go to a pair of Mitre National Player of the Week winners that lead the squad from different sides of the ball.
Cody Shelton earned Player of the Week honors after scoring a hat trick, the first in his career and in club history, against City of Angels FC on March 12. Shelton had previously played on the team’s backline, but he’s now found himself creating opportunities and scoring goals.
“I love playing defense,” Shelton commented. “I have my whole life and have received many accolades and recognitions for it. But let’s be honest, who doesn’t like the glory of being a goal scoring forward.”
The Joshua Tree, California native is best described as hard working, driven, dedicated,skillful, mentally strong, and a natural born leader. No wonder he is such an important part of the team. Yet he is very grateful for the opportunity that he has been given.
“Robert (Lopez) has given me the opportunity to continue to play the game that I love in a place I call home. He’s continued to believe in me and let me lead Riverside Coras as a captain. Coras has surrounded me with great friends and players, as well as provided me with an amazing training environment and home field at UC Riverside.”
Lopez, the team’s president, has similar positive feelings towards Shelton.
“Cody is a great outside full back with an attacking forward mindset. Last year Cody had four goals and in 2017, Cody’s first game of the season begins with a hat trick. He’s a passionate player with a big drive to win every game and a leader on and off the pitch. Cody draws a good amount of fans to every home game; he’s a crowd favorite.”
The Joshua Tree, California native was a four-year starter at Biola University in La Mirada, California, earning three All-GSAC and two All-American honors. Shelton is no stranger to playing on great teams, having starred for the Kitsap Pumas earlier in his career.
“I had an amazing experience with Kitsap and was able to grow a lot as a player, along with building a lot of relationships. Not to mention, winning conference twice and making it to the championship game. Seeing them in the NPSL is exciting because they are going to be one of the top clubs contending for the championship this year.”
Down the field you’ll find goalkeeper Alonso Lara, the winner of the second Mitre National Player of the Week honor for 2017. Lara earned his award with four dramatic saves in a 2-0 win over Albion SC PROS on March 19th. Albion was no ordinary opponent; they were the defending conference champions and a team that took the West Region by storm in 2016.
Lara has a very interesting backstory, having gotten his start with Sueño MLS Chivas USA in 2008. He made quite an impression there.
“Sueño MLS I could say is where it all started for me to realize that I did have something special in me. I was put in front of 2,000 players and about 200 keepers and to be the last keeper standing was something special. I learned that you don’t need to play like someone you’re not, be you be yourself and play your game because that’s the easiest way to play not to play like someone you’re not.”
Lara was able to take the experience and grow from it, signing after high school with Celaya FC, a club that played in the Mexican Second and Third Division. It was a formative time in his career.
“Playing professionally in Mexico taught me everything I know today. That is playing with your feet, accuracy on goal kicks and punts, playing smart, playing simple, soft hands, power with your feet, crosses, just about anything a keeper needs to know. I could say the competition was super competitive because you’re going against keepers that have trained with a pro soccer goalkeeper coach since they were young. It was a challenge I accepted and proved myself that I could keep up to take over a starting position.”
Playing in Mexico was a bit different than being at home in the U.S. and he learned a great deal from his time there.
“The only difference with the U.S. and what I’ve noticed with the rest of the world and with my experience with my pro team in Mexico is that from a young age they have you training every day. You train every morning and go to school for a few hours in the afternoon. I think that’s the difference because they live to play soccer every day and it becomes a habit.”
At 21, Lara returned to the U.S. to be with his mother and two younger brothers. Two years later, he came out of retirement to join Deportivo Coras USA for the 2015 NPSL season.
2015 was a breakout year for Lara, who played in 12 games and conceded only 11 goals. His GAA would be the lowest in the West Region. In 2016, Lara had similar success as he allowed 17 goals in 12 matches. This GAA was the second lowest in the West Region. He would perform well enough to be chosen to represent the West Region in the 2017 NPSL Showcase in Carson, California. The latter proved to be the biggest event of his NPSL career.
“My most memorable moment would have been playing in the 2017 NPSL Showcase because I was given the opportunity to represent the West Region, playing against great players,” Lara added. “Just the whole thing in general was great.”
Lara is also very grateful for the opportunities that have come from playing in Riverside.
“Riverside Coras has helped me to be a leader to help my team, to make my defense better, carrying on my past experience and passing it on to them. Rob Lopez has given me the confidence and handed me the responsibility to become a leader. He has not just treated me as one player, but instead part of his own family. I’m happy with the people he has me in front of and this opportunity he has given me.”
Lopez is happy to have Lara starting in goal for Coras. He sees Lara as a player with great potential for the professional game.
“Alonso is a very focused and well-disciplined keeper. He raises the confidence to his teammates. As a plus Lara has great footwork with the ball and his teammates don’t hesitate to play back. He’s mature and 100% committed, always training hard.”
Both Shelton and Lara have big goals for themselves and the team moving forward. The duo are working hard to earn a professional contract for themselves at a higher level. But for now they are intensely focused on winning the conference and contending for a national championship.
It is easy to see that Coras is in good hands with Shelton scoring goals, Lara saving them, and Lopez leading the way from the front office. It’s going to be a great 2017 in Riverside, California.