For as long as they can remember, Dominique Salcedo and Luis Santillan have shared a passion for the game of soccer.And as one would imagine, the two Joplin High School graduates hope to play “the beautiful game” for as long as possible.Both Salcedo and Santillan are suiting up for the Demize National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) (4th division in the US soccer pyramid) this summer. In the process, the longtime friends are playing the game they’ve always loved while also keeping their dreams of competing professionally alive.
Both athletes said it’s an honor to play for the Demize.
“Playing for the NPSL team is a great experience and has been a great opportunity for me,” Salcedo said.
“It’s been a really good experience,” Santillan added. “Getting this experience has helped me improve and has helped me gain confidence.”
Demize NPSL director of soccer operations and head coach Chris Hanlon said both Salcedo and Santillan have long displayed a passion for their chosen sport.
“They’ve both grown up in this area looking for opportunities to play in college and beyond,” Hanlon said. “I know they want to continue to play soccer at the highest level possible and they want to continue to be involved in soccer. They want to live out their dreams in soccer while at the same time providing for their families in the next stage of their lives beyond soccer.”
A 2015 graduate of JHS, Salcedo was an all-league and an all-district forward for the Eagles. Salcedo, who can shoot with his right or left foot, was also a kicker for the high school football team. Nicknamed “Domi” by his friends, a 17-year-old Salcedo was the youngest player on the roster during the inaugural season of the franchise formerly known as the Joplin Demize in 2014. After his standout prep career, Salcedo took his talents to Crowder College to play for the Roughriders. Now, he’s earning minutes for the rebranded Demize NPSL squad.
“Domi’s very technical and has a nose for the goal,” Hanlon said. “He plays in the middle of the park and he’s capable of scoring if he has some time and space.”
Santillan is a 2014 graduate of JHS who played at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M after his standout prep career for the Eagles, which included all-conference and all-district honors as a midfielder. Like Salcedo, Santillan is currently earning playing time for the Demize.
“Luis is very fast and plays on the flank,” Hanlon said. “Luis is very technical with the ball and he shows a lot of quickness. And he has a low center of gravity which helps him.”
In addition to their exploits at the prep level, Hanlon noted that both Salcedo and Santillan have gone through the ranks of his local program, beginning with the Demize academy and his PASL (Premier Arena Soccer League) indoor squad before earning a spot on the NPSL team.
“Both Domi and Luis have been mainstays in our program since we started,” Hanlon said. “They both did a really good job on our semi-pro indoor team last winter. As a result of how well they played indoors, we wanted to get them actively involved in the NPSL team in the summer.”
A HIGHER LEVEL
Both Salcedo and Santillan noted the NPSL is a big step up in competition from the high school and community college level.
“It’s a lot faster,” Salcedo said. “You touch and go and you don’t have time to keep the ball. You have to get rid of the ball quickly or someone’s going to come and take it or foul you or just run you over.
“It’s really physical,” he continued. “It’s a much higher level. It’s close enough to the pro level that you get a taste of it. It’s really competitive.”
Santillan had a similar assessment.
“Going from the academy team to this is a whole new level,” Santillan said. “It’s a pretty high level. It’s a lot faster what I’m used to playing. At all positions, everybody is good all-around. And the practices are tough. Everybody challenges each other. But I’m loving it right now.”
The two noted playing at a higher level has only helped them improve their skills, as well.
“I’ve been able to improve my game and get my skills up to the next level,” Salcedo said. “I just want to get better every day.”
“I’ve improved, I’ve been getting more minutes and I just want to make a difference when I’m out there,” Santillan said.
Hanlon noted the two local products have benefited from joining the team — on and off the pitch.
“They get to be exposed to players from all over the world in the NPSL and they’ve also created a lot of friendships,” Hanlon said.
As one would imagine, both Salcedo and Santillan hope to continue playing competitive soccer for as long as possible.
“My dream has always been to hopefully make the pros,” Salcedo said. “It’s harder to do here in the states, but I just want to play at the highest level possible.”
Santillan had a similar view.
“I’m going to keep playing on the PASL team and I’m hoping to play again with the NPSL team, too,” Santillan said. “I hope to keep improving my skills and then maybe one day I’ll go beyond the NPSL.”
For both athletes, it’s hard to imagine themselves not playing the beautiful game.
“I’ve been playing since I was like three years old,” Salcedo said. “From the time when you’re a little kid you always want to play as long as you can and at the highest level possible.”
“I’ve been playing since I was four years old,” Santillan said. “Ever since I was little I’ve always loved playing. I just want to continue playing as long as I can.”