Daniel Orozco had no thoughts of playing high school soccer.
He had never played the sport until eighth grade, and even then, that was just kicking the ball around with some friends.
Badgered by those friends to try out for Van Horn as a freshman, Orozco gave in to that positive peer pressure.
Fast forward three years, and Orozco, now Van Horn’s senior goalkeeper, marks the wall of a defense that has recorded 20 shutouts and is a big reason why the Falcons are a perfect 25-0 heading into tonight’s Class 3 District 15 final against Kansas City East (6 p.m. at Staley High School).
“I can’t take credit for the 20 shutouts or our success,” Orozco said. “That’s my defense. We work every day. It’s hard work being put in, it’s dedication, it’s the commitment to the team and wanting to get our names out there and I think that’s all it is. As a defense, we have pride in getting shutouts and what we do.”
Orozco has been so good that it’s been nearly a month since he’s yielded a goal and the ball has only gotten past him seven times all season.
“He’s saved us so many times,” Van Horn coach Jesus Rodriguez said. “He’s worked for his shutouts because there’s times where we make a mistake in the back and he’s our last line of defense and he’ll block it.”
Knowing they have Orozco behind them allows the Falcons defenders to play with an added confidence.
“Having a goalkeeper like him helps us as defense as a whole,” senior defender Yino Carrillo said. “Playing defense is hard. Having him as a backup keeps us calmed down, and if we make a mistake, we know he’s got us.”
Everything has come together for the Falcons in Rodriguez’s third season leading the program, part of which has come from an emphasis on the goalkeeper position.
A year after Orozco helped the team go 19-5 with 13 shutouts, Van Horn has gotten even stingier in its half of play.
“In order for us to get somewhere as a program we need to have a good goalkeeper,” Rodriguez said. “We starting training (Orozco) specifically for goalie because we saw potential in him even though he could also be an awesome field player because he’s got good feet. He just kept on getting better and better and better.”
Orozco’s progression has been so swift in his high school career that those who watch him think he’s played the game his whole life.
“The improvement has been insane,” Orozco said. “People ask me, ‘How long have you been playing, since you were 3?’ No, since freshman year pretty much. It’s great to see the look on their face when I tell them that. … When I get compliments on my play, I take it as just another reason to work.”
Orozco’s high school career hasn’t been all roses.
As a sophomore, Rodriguez removed him from the team for a short time, something Orozco looks back on as “the best thing (Rodriguez) ever could have done.”
“I had a little more attitude than you should have and I was letting it give me a big head, and I was thinking I was high and mighty and better than everyone else,” Orozco said. “(Rodriguez) took me down a size and showed me that I wasn’t better than everyone here. He kicked me off and it let me get my stuff together and I came back ready to work.”
Rodriguez said Orozco has turned into the model player during the last two years.
“Ever since then, he’s been a workhorse,” he said. “(Removing him) motivated him and he got on board. He came back, we got him training and he’s been great ever since.”
Not only is Orozco now the epitome of what a teammate should be, he’s also one of the best goalkeepers in the city who is drawing looks from college programs.
“He can go play somewhere in college,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve never seen someone do what he does. Not only in practice, but in games. I’m surprised we haven’t had more schools looking at him. He’s got some options. The further we can go in the playoffs the more looks he’ll have. It’s cool that he’s worked so hard to get to this point.”
And to think Orozco had no plans of ever suiting up for the Falcons.
“A couple of friends just said, ‘Come out,’” Orozco said. “If it weren’t for them nagging me to come play, I wouldn’t be here. … Now I’ve learned to love the sport. I’ve learned that it’s more than one player. It’s a team thing. I love the feeling of being able to play and get everything out there. It’s my go-to when I need to get stress off my shoulders. I come here, play and feel so much better. It’s becoming more than that, though. It’s become where I want to play. I want to play soccer.”