You could game plan for him, mark him, try to keep the ball away from him, but eventually La Vega forward Omar Torres was going to have his chance.
And he usually made it count.
Torres, the 2021 Super Centex Boys’ Soccer Player of the Year, finished his career with 94 goals, including 28 in his senior season as he led the Pirates to a district championship.
Like many Central Texas athletes, especially in spring sports, Torres had part of his career truncated by the COVID-19 shutdown last spring. It didn’t stop him from making his mark on the local soccer landscape, though.
Robinson coach Cain Quiroz, compared him to no less of a soccer luminary than FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
“He can be quiet,” Quiroz said. “He can be like a Messi. He’s just on the field and then, all of a sudden, he gets the ball and he creates something. Absolutely, he’s a tough one to contain.”
Super Centex Girls Soccer Team: When your team’s most talented player also doubles as one of the hardest workers, that rubs off on everyone else — in the best way possible.
Torres set the bar at scoring 100 goals during his La Vega career. He didn’t quite get there, but it wasn’t because opponents stopped him. Out of sportsmanship, Quiroz pulled Torres out of games after the Pirates had established insurmountable leads. So the senior forward only played the whole match five times this season.
Yet a soccer fan would be hard-pressed to find a player with more goals in the state.
“It’s incredible,” La Vega coach Manuel Gibson said. “Over the last few years, Omar didn’t play a whole lot after we got ahead. I want Omar to get his goals, but we didn’t want to embarrass other schools. So it’s been a balance between wanting to let him get his goals and trying not to embarrass the other team.
“He just wanted to do what it took for the team to win. He’s the type that understands we’re only as good as our weakest link and if he has to sacrifice every now and then for the team, he was happy with that.”
Torres said one of his most valuable skills is to see the field and see plays developing. He’s grown up playing soccer, so he’s been in just about every situation imaginable. And he learned from an early age to master those situations.
“Ever since I was a little kid, that’s something my dad taught me,” Torres said. “Find a way, any way, just make sure to get the ball in the goal.”
In nominating Torres for Super Centex Player of the Year, Gibson made a comparison to baseball’s Reggie Jackson being “the straw that stirs the drink.” For Gibson, Torres was the straw, the glass and the ice.
“I’m fortunate to have so many good players on my team,” Gibson said. “But when Omar is out on the field, he opens it up for everybody else. It lets everybody else be the player that they didn’t even know they could be. In the moments when we need someone to carry us, we don’t have to worry about that. Omar has that covered.”
Newcomer of the Year: Juaquin Zarate, La Vega
One of those players backing up Torres was freshman defender Juaquin Zarate, the Super Centex Newcomer of the Year.
Zarate pushed up to score two goals and dish out four assists, but most of what he did on the pitch cant’ be measured in offensive stats.
“I think Juaquin has such a feel for the game, he makes the difficult plays look routine,” Gibson said. “He never folds under pressure. He would be elite even with just his skill. That’s not what makes him elite in my mind, it’s the intangibles that he brings to the table. That kid can’t be rocked. He’s so solid in everything he does. When he’s on the field, you always know he’s going to make the right play.”
Zarate said he has a heart for the game in describing his approach and the way he plays.
That was particularly evident in one of La Vega’s most important matches this season. The Pirates were locked with China Spring in a scoreless tie, in a game that would decide the district championship.
Zarate put himself in the right position to handle a rebounded ball and then he knew what to do with it.
“One thing about Juaquin, he never loses confidence in his abilities,” Gibson said. “In his mind, he’s always one play away. He launched that ball from about 40 yards, give or take, it was just a line drive and it hit that back post.”
The ball rattled in and propelled La Vega to a 1-0 victory over the Cougars.
“It just came off a rebound. I just caught it and shot,” Zarate said. “My teammates just came and tackled me.”
With that, Torres and Zarate had helped La Vega win its first district title since the 2017 season.
Mike Chapman Coach of the Year: Cain Quiroz, Robinson
One can’t recount the soccer season that just passed without reflecting on the blizzard that shut down play for almost two weeks.
Soccer players are accustomed to toughing out cold and rainy nights on the pitch. Texas has designated high school soccer as a winter sport, so soccer fans can most often be seen huddled under layers in the stands.
But this winter, the ice and snow brought everything to a halt. After it thawed, soccer teams had some catching up to do.
Robinson coach Cain Quiroz and his squad used that period to their maximum advantage. Quiroz is the 2021 winner of the Mike Chapman Super Centex Coach of the Year honor, so named for the late University High coach.
“We set up those (makeup) games and in one week we ended up having four games — a Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday game,” Quiroz said. “I think that kind of helped our boys with the mindset that things are going to be tough. We feel that we’re a pretty fit team, a pretty athletic team. Once we started playing again, the boys kind of kept fighting, kept fighting, kept fighting.”
The Rockets were not projected to be a playoff contender. Yet they persevered at the end of the season. It came down to a crucial match against Mexia when Robinson could earn a playoff spot.
“We had to beat Mexia on a tie breaker by three goals,” Quiroz said. “They had beat us the first round. We expressed to the boys how hard they had fought that previous week. We put in their minds that one goal at a time we could do it. I think the Mexia game was the culmination.”
Robinson won 5-2 and finished third in 17-4A. The Rockets went on to add a first round playoff victory over Lampasas, 1-0.
“Mindset is huge, getting kids to believe,” Quiroz said. “They accepted their roles, they followed the game plan and saw the results. Now we get the kids buying in even more.”
2021 SUPER CENTEX BOYS SOCCER TEAM
|Player of the Year: Omar Torres, Sr, F, La Vega|
|Newcomer of the Year: Juaquin Zarate, Fr, D, La Vega|
|Coach of the Year: Cain Quiroz, Robinson|
|F||Adrian Perez||Sr||China Spring|
|F||Omar Torres||Sr||La Vega|
|MF||William Bradshaw||Jr||China Spring|
|MF||Aidan Martinez||Sr||La Vega|
|D||Tanner Brown||Sr||China Spring|
|D||Sergio Gonzalez||Sr||La Vega|
|GK||Ivan Magadaleno||So||La Vega|
|D||Cesar Betancourt||So||Bishop Reicher|
|Braden Smith, Live Oak; Ivan Marquez, Mexia; Alexis Serrano, Midway; Jose Medrano and Jorge Martinez, Temple; Karch Knoll, Eric Knoll and Sehoon Joo, Vanguard; Miller Cunningham, Waco High|
Sr, China Spring
Excellent passer and facilitator scored 22 goals for the Cougars, but also found teammates to rack up 19 assists.
Sr, La Vega
Pirates’ dynamic forward kept constant pressure on opposing defenses, finished with 28 goals this season and 94 in his career.
The District 17-4A Offensive MVP was relentless on the attack and finished the campaign with 19 goals and nine assists in 21 games.
Wildcats forward earned District 12-6A MVP honors following prolific season in which he scored 26 goals with 10 assists.
Jr, China Spring
Cougar claimed 17-4A’s top midfielder honor as he fueled China Spring’s offense with 17 goals and 15 assists.
Sr, La Vega
Described by his coach as a “soccer virtuoso,” Pirates midfielder was right behind Torres with 23 goals, led team with 13 assists.
A Mary Hardin-Baylor signee, Panthers midfielder posted six goals and six assists while playing against top-level competition.
Rocket toggled between midfield and forward, but kept up production as he finished the season with 20 goals and 11 assists.
Sr, China Spring
Cougar defender was at his best in pressure situations, pushed forward to help out offense with six goals and six assists.
Blackcats’ big defender garnered 17-4A Defensive MVP recognition and showed the ability to flip the field and help out the attack.
Sr, La Vega
Pirate defender was the key to La Vega’s back end as he specialized in marking and shutting down opponent’s best forwards.
So, La Vega
Pirate goalkeeper kept out opponents, posted 10 shutouts, including seven in district play and finished with 0.57 goals-against average in district.
Fr, La Vega
Young Pirate defender showed passion and high IQ for the game as he helped La Vega win a district title.
Guided a Rockets team that changed its focus and identity by making the playoffs and advancing to the second round.