Midway’s Leo Peralta was a wanted man this year.
Defenses have always adjusted in an attempt to shade the devastating striker out of games. But after scoring 64 goals in his first two seasons at Midway after moving from soccer hotbed Uruguay, the opposition redoubled its efforts to shut him down this season.
Peralta saw a little bit of everything: defenses deploying a man to follow him around the field, defenders chopping at his ankles, even entire entire defenses rotating toward his movement to cut off his route to goal.
No dice. Peralta still shredded defenses as a junior, tallying 25 goals and nine assists to earn his second consecutive Super Centex Player of the Year award.
Peralta followed his father to Waco from Fray Bentos, Uruguay before his freshman year to try his hand at a better life through soccer. While soccer always came easy, the communication was tough. As his English got better, so did his ability to communicate with teammates on the field.
This year, he was a virtual chatterbox.
“I was kind of lost at first,” Peralta said. “And then I had a talk with coach (Tim O’Leary), and he taught me what the plays were. I started talking more and more, and this past year I talked a lot. And we made a lot of progress on the field.”
Peralta’s devastating efficiency even made it back to Uruguay. Peralta was honored by the city of Fray Bentos for his achievements in 2012 with a “Juanchos” award, given by the local press to outstanding achievements in sports outside the area. Peralta was on the list.
Despite leaving family and friends in Uruguay, Peralta still has a positive outlook about his decision to move to Texas.
“I really feel good about it,” Peralta said. “I feel good as a person that I’m getting somewhere, getting a goal set for the future. It feels really good.”
On the field, Peralta was irrepressible as ever. With so much attention lavished on him by opposing defenses, Peralta has been forced to iron out the kinks that existed in his game. When he started at Midway, he was less apt to play off his teammates and he almost never used his weaker left foot.
Out of necessity and at the urging of longtime coach O’Leary, who retired after the season, Peralta worked tirelessly on picking out teammates and drilling shots toward goal in practice on his left foot. Peralta freely admits he hasn’t arrived at the summit yet, but he made some huge strides in 2013.
Indeed, Peralta was a keystone in Midway’s first season at the Class 5A level. The Panthers went 19-2-4 and finished second to Belton in District 8-5A. They claimed impressive wins over Highland Park and Austin Westlake and only missed being district co-champs due to a draw against Harker Heights that was forced to stand because of weather.
“When I first started playing over here, I remembered to get the ball, turn around and just go to the goal,” Peralta said. “But through the years that I played with O’Leary, when I got the ball, I stopped, looked around, see my friends running, pass the ball, going up to them, getting the ball again and scoring.”
But Peralta’s telltale confidence is still there. In Midway’s first playoff game as a 5A program earlier this year, the Panthers blasted Grand Prairie, 4-0, and Peralta assisted on the first goal and scored the third. It is perhaps this confidence that keeps Peralta churning forward.
“What I like the most, is if I get the ball in the middle of the field, I just take it,” Peralta said. “It’s either I shoot to the goal, or I pass it. And we always end up scoring that way. It’s pretty fun.”
Coach of the year: University’s Mike Chapman
In a very literal sense, seasons don’t get any better than the one Mike Chapman and the University boys’ squad had this year.
En route to the school’s first state title, the Trojans went 33-0-0, becoming just the second 4A boys’ team since the UIL began keeping records to complete a perfect untied, unbeaten season.
But the 2013 Trojans have a unique claim on history. There have been a handful of perfect seasons in the state’s history, but none of those teams won as many games as did the Trojans. At least in that sense, University can stake a claim as the best soccer team in state history.
For one of the best soccer seasons ever put together in the state, Chapman earned his second consecutive boys’ coach of the year award.
“Being able to win the state championship like we did, it’s just been great,” Chapman said. “Our kids deserve it, and it’s just been great. The city has been good to us. The kids have been going out and making a lot of appearances in Waco. It’s been really neat.”
University was so good that at times, Chapman asked his assistants to look for imperfections in practice to keep the team humble. He’d routinely turn to coaches Ricky Perez and Cain Quiroz to find something on which to harp.
“Find something, today we’ve got to find something they’re not doing well on or could be doing better,” Chapman recalled. “And then we need to stress that and make sure they’re working on those things. Honestly, we had to dig deep to find those things.”
Still, the Trojans were unbeatable, and the tactical élan employed by the team’s coaches released an uber-talented roster to just play. University’s variation on the 4-4-2 was felt most deeply in the midfield, where Aron Alvarez was freed to run things in the middle thanks to Mike Solis’ ability to hold deep and sweep away attacks.
This kind of cohesiveness in midfield allowed the Trojans to claim some impressive scalps. They beat title contender Waller 8-0 early in the year, and they made the state tournament thanks in part to a free kick from Solis that tied the regional final with Houston Lee with just 18 seconds left.
Indeed, Chapman’s insistence on drilling penalty kicks every day in practice paid off. The Trojans needed penalties in the regional final and the state semifinal to advance, and they dropped El Paso Del Valle, 1-0, in the final on a goal with less than 10 minutes to go to complete a rare unblemished season.
Newcomer of the year: Waco High’s Omar Williams
As the season progressed, it became more and more obvious to Waco High coach Kris Kahler that Omar Williams was a freshman in name alone.
Kahler came to entrust Williams with manning the defensive “last man” position for much of the year, a spot that requires nerves of steel as the last outfield player standing between the goal and the dribbler.
And add to the fray that his brother, Hiram, had created a lofty mark to live up to. Williams didn’t even blink.
Williams became an integral part of Waco High’s stout defense. The Lions went 22-7 this year, and their only two district blemishes came in tight games against eventual state champion University. Williams got a chance to prove himself early in the season at the Lancaster Tournament, and he didn’t disappoint. Waco High gave up zero goals and eventually won the tourney.
He was a cool customer for the rest of the season. Waco High registered 14 shutouts in in 29 games, and Williams did his part. And he wasn’t just a stout defender. He often got into the act in the attacking third as well, and he was deadly off set pieces.
Indeed, Williams scored seven goals and provided 12 assists as a versatile cog who could fit in anywhere on the field. For Williams, it started with Heart of Texas soccer and the Waco Blast, and he now plays for a select club team in Dallas.
Williams started the season on the right side of the defense, but injuries forced him into the last man position. This had a residual effect on Hiram, who was then flipped up top to play as a striker. The move worked perfectly, as Williams soon blossomed into one of the most consistently effective defenders in the area as just a freshman.
“When the other team’s forward comes toward me and tries to shake me, I like that competition,” Williams said. “I like that challenge. I like defending a lot.”
2013 SUPER CENTEX TEAM
Player: Leo Peralta, Midway Coach: Mike Chapman, University
Newcomer: Omar Williams, Waco High
Position Player School
Forward Jason Diaz Waco High
Forward Jon Lozano University
Forward Leo Peralta Midway
Midfielder Aron Alvarez University
Midfielder Ben Diaz Waco High
Midfielder Angel Hernandez Belton
Midfielder Aaron Wible Midway
Defender Juan Salas University
Defender Mike Solis University
Defender Andrew Wible Midway
Goalkeeper Adrian Barragan University
Honorable mention: Carlo Mosnia and Timothy Williams, Belton; Sebastian Corrales, Abate Hennessy, Ernesto Hernandez and Franco Vega, Gatesville; Cesar Labrada, Raul Garcia, Kylynn Martinez and Hoa Vuong, Mexia; Rowan Meyer, Midway; Jose Santos Chavez, Richard Fuentes, Jacob Gutierrez and Eli Sanchez; University
Past Newcomer had 29 goals, including eight hat tricks
Brusque forward led titlists with 30 goals, also had 18 assists
25 goals, eight assists; unmatched technical ability
Skillful heart of midfield: had 15 goals, eight assists
Sure-footed midfielder scored 17 goals, had 24 assists
8-5A offensive MVP had 23 goals, six assists; 4-year goal tally up to 59
Top-notch midfielder collected 21 goals, 16 assists, was a terror in air
Point man on Trojans’ far back defense; last man on back line
Punched away attacks; scored five goals, had 10 assists
Lanky frame, athleticism; organized back line; allowed just 11 goals
Only nine goals allowed; kicked the winning PK in semifinals
Last man on defense; contributed seven goals and 12 assists.
Led Trojans to one of best records in state history