Boys Soccer Player of the Year: Mikey Kroll was a calming presence for successful Oswego team

Panthers won 17 games, regional title, led by their senior midfielder

There was a calming presence on the pitch this fall for Oswego.

As a second-year captain and third-year varsity player, senior midfielder Mikey Kroll not only bridged the gap between a strong, seasoned line of defenders and opportunistic forwards, but ensured his teammates kept their cool throughout the ups and downs of a high school soccer season.

There were a lot of highs this fall for the Panthers, and Kroll was a key reason why they were able to win 17 games and a regional title. He has been recognized as the 2023 Record Newspapers Boys Soccer Player of the Year.

“I think I’ve always stayed calm in games,” Kroll said. “Obviously, there’s pressure in some games. I feel like my mentality is there’s stuff that happens in the game that will affect the outcome that you can’t control. Mistakes will happen. My mentality is to stay calm and don’t fold under pressure. I let my teammates know that whatever happens, happens. Staying calm is one of the biggest things about me.”

There were occasions this season where the Panthers went into halftime looking for answers for a second-half response. The answer often was to simply let Kroll do his thing.

“We had some games where we struggled a lot with pressure and some of our conversations were to play the ball to Mikey, because he knows what to do with it,” Oswego coach Gaspar Arias said. “Mikey will get the ball and calm the game down. You watch his movement without the ball and he will create a lot for our defense to play out of the back and target players to connect and move the ball forward with our outside mids. His passing accuracy is great.”

Kroll is the walking, talking definition of a well-rounded athlete.

“I think I bring a bit of everything,” Kroll said. “I can play defense and play offense. I could play physical and win balls in the air. My passing is very good. I just focus on the team aspect any way I can.”

The kid wants to win, but also recognizes that it’s only a game.

“I think everyone is nervous at the start of a season, especially high school freshmen,” Kroll said. “There’s no need to be nervous about anything. It’s just soccer; something you love.”

Kroll wasn’t nervous, but rather worried when a West Aurora player went down with an injury battling for a 50/50 ball when the teams met during the regular season on Sept. 28.

His act of sportsmanship, another of his fine attributes, didn’t go unnoticed to Blackhawks coach Joe Sustersic.

“I think he was close to him when he got injured and he wanted to make sure he was OK and then he came back again to check on him,” Sustersic said. “I’ve been coaching for over 30 years and that’s something you don’t see too often.”

While the Panthers were down after losing 3-0, Sustersic alleviated some of the sting by heaping praise on Kroll’s behavior.

“I told him that what you did your coaches and parents should be proud of,” Sustersic said. “That’s something you don’t see too often and I’ve been coaching now for over 30 years.”

Kroll scored one goal this season and even predicted he was going to score it as he provided the difference in a 1-0 victory over Oswego East in a Class 3A regional semifinal. While he doesn’t put up big numbers with goals and assists, he was most definitely involved in those fulfilled opportunities, providing the link for favorable results in his teammates finding the back of the net.

“We lose sight of players in the middle, the ones that create everything for us,” Arias said. “If you have a good mid that can connect with the defense and the strikers, you can control the game. And with his soccer IQ and movement and knowing how to move the ball, Mikey was very impressive. When he receives the ball he plays it the right way and only certain players can do that. I’m very proud of him. I’ve been very lucky to have him the last three years.”

Arias doesn’t get to coach many kids with such a high soccer IQ.

“His soccer IQ is one of the best I’ve seen,” he said. “He’s always in the right spot. Before he receives the ball, he knows where he’s going. He’s good at anticipating his next play. He’s a very smart player. His technical abilities are great. I told him we are going to miss you. He’s been one of our key players the last couple of years. He’s a great person, very coachable, very smart, very humble, always listens and helps his teammates.”

The Panthers suffered a 2-0 loss to Oswego East, a 3-0 decision to West Aurora and settled for a scoreless draw against a 5-win Wheaton Warrenville South team to finish the month of September sliding downward.

Fortunately, the calendar turned over to October. After a 1-1 tie against Plainfield North, the Panthers picked up wins against Romeoville, Joliet West and Marmion to finish off the regular season with momentum.

“We played those games against Marmion and Romeoville knowing that it doesn’t matter how good they are, we always have a chance,” Kroll said. “The captains did pregame speeches and mine was to stay calm and composed. And all of us played like that. Maybe we weren’t supposed to get a win on paper, but we got both of those.”

Kroll isn’t going to be playing competitive soccer any longer as he’s gotten even bigger plans to join the U.S. Army Reserve. He’ll bring along some newly acquired leadership skills that he’s gained in the past couple of seasons at Oswego.

“This year I think I grew more into a leadership role,” he said. “I had been somewhat of a leader, but being a senior I had to step into that role more because last year we had a lot of seniors. I also had to be more vocal, but that ties into leadership and telling them what to do and showing them what to do, even when not playing, these are the things you should do. I really enjoyed being able to teach the underclassmen.”

While he’ll be committed to the U.S. Army Reserves next summer and fall, he expects to start college in spring 2025 with hopes of studying civil engineering. And, who knows, maybe he’ll end up near the field again, perhaps teaching the game he’s gotten to know, and play, so well.

“I think one of the main things that I feel my coaches and my dad have always told me is that you know what you’re doing and you know where you should be,” he said. “If you don’t want to play soccer, maybe you should try coaching. You would be a very good coach.”

And a calming presence.