The fact Oak Park High School senior Ray Saari was playing soccer this year is a worthy accomplishment.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
To play at the level he did — one that reached All-America status — provided a story that will be remembered for quite some time.
Saari was diagnosed with testicular cancer on Nov. 19, 2010. He was 16 years old.
He returned the soccer field only four months later for his club team, Billy Goat FC, and the team’s coach, Abdullah Parker, said Saari remained one of the best players on the soccer field.
Two years later, there was nobody better.
Saari scored 29 goals and added 13 assists for Oak Park this fall. Beyond the numbers, though, his dynamic playmaking ability on the field earns him The Star’s All-Metro boys soccer player of the year honors for 2012.
“Soccer was one of the biggest parts of my recovery,” Saari said. “It is my life. It’s my way of getting to college. I never imagined giving it up.”
Saari’s cancer is behind him, while his best days lie ahead. He will continue his soccer career at Tulsa, a Division I program that reached the NCAA Sweet 16 in November.
He will contribute more than an inspirational story.
Saari glides through the midfield with relative ease. His versatility makes him a tough matchup — even for teams willing to designate three defenders to stopping him.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen,” said Liberty coach Tom Rottjakob, who has accumulated more than 200 high school victories in his coaching career. “He can destroy you all by himself. It would be fun to watch if he didn’t do it against your team.”
Playing midfielder for the Northmen under coach Derek Noll, Saari was named the state’s offensive player of the year by Missouri coaches, and he was later selected to the NSCAA All-America team.
He finished his career at Oak Park with 73 goals and 68 assists.
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