Michael Solis was nervous. There was no use hiding it. University’s incredible season was once again on its death bed just steps from the state tournament. And Solis was being asked to save it.
Within a hazy cloud of confusion, Solis spun the ball to the ground, took a few steps back and squinted up at the game clock, frozen at 00:18.
University trailed Houston Lee, 1-0, in the regional final in Humble last Saturday afternoon, and, with 18 seconds left, the Trojans earned a free kick about 20 yards from goal. The referee fortuitously stopped the clock, allowing Solis time to line up his kick amid a roiling sea of angry Lee players and University players setting up a play.
The Trojans had only been to the regional final once, in 2010, when they were buried by Kingwood Park. At stake was not only University’s first trip to state, but the extension of Solis’ high school career and that of his senior teammates.
With 18 seconds left, Solis stung his shot across the face of goal, where it snuck inside the far post to tie the game. University’s bench erupted. About a half hour later, University hit all of its free kicks to squeeze past Lee, 5-3, and into the state tournament for the first time. The Trojans erupted again.
Incredulous as they were, the Trojans celebrated a result they could hardly believe.
“With 18 seconds left?” University striker Jon Lozano said. “It’s only heard of in movies and TV shows. It never happens to you. But that was an experience I will remember for a lifetime.”
University (31-0-0) treks to Georgetown’s Birkelbach Field on Thursday to square off against Mesquite Poteet (23-1-3) in the Class 4A state semifinals at 6 p.m. The winner advances to face the winner of the Pharr Valley View-El Paso Del Valle meeting for the state title at 1 p.m. Saturday.
University has been literally unbeatable this year. University won tournaments in Forney and Stephenville and went undefeated in a five-game invitational in Brenham during nondistrict play. During that invite, the Trojans heard plenty of noise about Waller, which was loaded up with talent as an early front-runner to advance to state out of 4A Region III.
Later that day, University beat Waller 8-0.
Since the UIL began charting the records of its individual state soccer participants in 2002, only three boys’ teams have pulled off perfect unbeaten, untied seasons: 5A programs Lewisville Marcus (30-0) in 2007 and Dallas Jesuit (25-0) in 2010, and Wichita Falls Rider (23-0) in 2007 in 4A.
The Trojans, though, have already won more games than any of those teams, meaning this University team has already gone somewhere no team has in the last 11 years.
Brenham set the 4A boys’ state standard in 2004 with 33 wins, but the Cubs lost two games and didn’t win the state title. That leaves University with an open door to history. Two more wins at state makes the Trojans the winningest boys’ soccer team in at least a decade.
“Sometimes it may just be a team’s year,” said University coach Mike Chapman, a Midway and Baylor grad who began coaching the University soccer team in 1991. “There’s coaches and players that strive their whole careers to get to a state tournament that are never fortunate enough to get there. With these guys, what happened the last 18 seconds of that game, honestly it was just a miracle.”
The Trojans employ an intricate style wholly uncommon to high school soccer. University draws a high defensive line, pressing its back four toward the midfield stripe to recycle possession quickly. When the Trojans do gather possession, they value it, keeping the ball as they explode upfield in controlled bursts dictated by the openings they can find. In short, University is a pass-and-move team in a sea of boot-and-chase.
The advantages here are multifold. For one, defensive midfielder Michael Solis’ main responsibility is to pull up the three defenders at his back. From his position as the tip of the defensive spear, he has unique license to both get forward to join attacks and to fall back and destroy the attacks of the opponent. That gives the Trojans a trump card nearly no opposing team can counter.
“The defense is why I don’t get much action in the back, because we maneuver, we move as a whole,” keeper Adrian Barragan said.
This gives the Trojans an incredible amount of flexibility. With Aron Alvarez sitting just in front of Solis to link play and University’s midfielders constantly swarming every open crevasse, opponents have to work just to get the ball off the Trojans’ feet.
High school statisticians don’t keep possession metrics, but if they did, the Trojans’ would easily average north of 60 percent possession per game, the benchmark of a dominant team in the modern era.
“The kids now understand our system,” Chapman said. “There are all different styles of soccer, but being in the program so long and knowing what to expect is a lot of it. You’ve got to have the horses before you can gallop, and we have the horses.”
University’s style isn’t an accident. Like two rivers flowing into a reservoir of talent, most of University’s current crop played on either the Waco Heat or Waco Arsenal for Heart of Texas Soccer at a young age. The teams eventually joined to form Waco Blast, a select travel team that plays in the offseason.
The Blast’s formation not only solidified the Trojans’ playing style, but it brought together its players.
“We’re practically brothers,” Lozano said.
Now, the Trojans get to take their style, and their camaraderie, to the state tournament, where they’ll try to do something no team has ever done — put together a perfect 33-0-0 season.
“Its incredible,” Solis said. “It’s an incredible feeling. Anything’s possible if you put your mind to it.”