Third year Van Horn head soccer coach Jesus Rodriguez made sure his team got in good shape over the summer.
More so than usual, and for good reason. Rodriguez is going to have his team play one of the most exhausting styles of soccer – utilizing the hyper press.
That requires the majority of the team to pressure the opponent in its own third of the field, to start a counterattack near the opponent’s own goal. To consistently play this style, it requires a team to have many players with a lot of endurance and a lot of depth.
The Falcons have both according to Rodriguez, who said he has 20 players who can play at the varsity level.
That will help him in terms of rotating players on and off the field to keep everyone fresh to play a style of soccer that requires a lot of running. Should the press not work, the players have to sprint back to their third of the field to help the goalkeeper defend the goal.
“We want to win the ball back there and attack them there rather than coming back and defending (on its own third of the field),” Rodriguez said. “The guys know they have to be fit to play that. When you are in there, you have to be running. If not, come out, and someone will go in there who runs.”
The Falcons’ incredible depth also pushes players in practice and in games, with starters knowing that any of the other nine players can take their spot, Rodriguez said.
“Having that much depth is a good problem to have,” Rodriguez said. “Those 20 guys can possibly start.
“I told the guys, ‘Please don’t make it easy for me to sit you out because you got mad that I subbed you out.’ There are a lot of guys who can play, so I am going to be subbing a lot of guys out so we can play our system, so we can (use the hyper press) the whole 80 minutes into overtime. I didn’t have the depth last year, and now we can do that all game long.”
Rodriguez and his players said he hopes the depth will help them get past districts and improve on last season’s 20-6 record. The Falcons made it to the district championship game before falling to Kansas City East 1-0 with many of their key players injured.
One of those injured was leading scorer Jose Enamorado, who graduated. But this year’s Van Horn team has plenty who can put the ball in the back of the net. Midfielder Angel DeAvila, who made second-team all-state as a freshman, figures to lead the way.
“Last year we played Kansas City Christian and the winner was going to win (the Crossroads Conference),” Rodriguez said. “Angel, in that game, he took it from half, took on four defenders and scored. As a freshman, that’s insane. And we won 2-0 and won the conference. He put the team on his back.”
Other returning players like Julio Rios, Luis Mejia, Juan Rangel, Abraham Colin and Reynalso Jean-Pierre figure to contribute to the goal scoring as well.
He also has a couple of players who weren’t eligible to play last season like Favian Valenzuela and Mario Rojo, who are expected to contribute to the offense.
“We are starting to get chemistry with each other,” DeAvila said. “We continue to practice and work together. We have a pretty team.”
Added Mejia: “We are pretty stacked at forward. We have three guys who can play there. We also have five players competing at the midfield.”
The Falcons also seem to pretty solid on defense. They are led by goalkeeper Daniel Orozco, who will be going into his third year as a starter after earning first-team all-district honors last year. The back line has returning starters like Yino Carillo, Erick Lopez and Bryan Parra to lead the way.
Juan Ramirez, who didn’t play last year because he was ineligible, will also help out on the back line. Jason Smith will be a rotational player, who started last year but left the team midway through the team for personal reasons.
With all the depth and talent Rodriguez has, he said his team can accomplish big things this season.
“We had kids who could play before but we didn’t have the discipline,” he said. “Now we have kids who can play, have the character and the discipline. This is the type of team that makes it all the way. Hopefully they realize that and take full advantage of it.”
After falling in the district finals last year, the goals and expectations are clear.
“The main goal is to win districts,” Mejia said. “We’re going to go as far as we want to.”