Despite offers to join other national and international soccer clubs, Mario Aleman will return for his senior season with Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony Village.

Major League Soccer's New York Red Bulls, an agent from Italy and a club from Argentina all sought Aleman for their residential soccer academies. His high school coach, Jake Smothers, believed Aleman would be lost to Argentina, the native country of Aleman's parents. In the end, the family decided to remain in the Twin Cities.

"In May, we kind of resigned ourselves to the fact he was gone," Smothers said. "But when he said he decided to stay, I got a big smile on my face. He's a likable kid we enjoy having around."

Aleman, who attends St. Anthony Village, was the only sophomore on the 2009 Class 2A all-state first team and also made the team as a junior. He scored 12 goals and posted 24 assists for the Panthers last season.

"I don't know that I've coached a kid at his skill level," Smothers said. "When it comes to overall soccer skill and game intelligence, Mario is in his own class."

With Aleman back to lead a young and talented team, Smothers is hopeful the Panthers can return to state for the first time since 2005. Last season, the team fell one victory short of the state tournament for the third time in five seasons.

One of two senior starters, Aleman will move to the inside where he can better direct the Panthers attack. Orbiting him will be juniors such as Nathan Frasier, Breyden Anderson and Matt Vradenburg, players expected to shine as they gain more experience.

"He'll be distributing the ball for us again," Smothers said. "He'll make the decisions for our team, and he'll be a leader for a tremendous group of young players."

David La Vaque • 612-673-7574