The 2021-22 season was one for the record books for the Jordan-Matthews boys soccer team, which went 20-1-1 and reached the fourth round of the state playoffs.
The Jets won the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A Conference with a 7-0 league record, outscoring their opponents by an average of 5.7 goals per game in the process. Jordan-Matthews finished the year with a plus-111 goal differential on the year, but the Jets ultimately fell in the fourth round of the 2A state tournament to Greene Central.
Entering his 21st year as the Jets’ head coach, Paul Cuadros has a plethora of returning talent at his disposal, but the season won’t be without its challenges. Jordan-Matthews has graduated eight seniors from last year’s team, including three senior starters and captains in Alexis Ibarra, Brian Hernandez and Cristian Cruz.
The Jets will be led this season by senior forward Zander Ocampo, who won Mid-Carolina 1A/2A Conference Player of the Year honors in 2021 after tallying 39 goals and seven assists as a junior. Jordan-Matthews will also have the benefit of a senior leader in net in goalkeeper Ricardo Rocha.
This week, the News + Record spoke with Cuadros to discuss the upcoming season, potential breakout players and much, much more.
The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
PAUL CUADROS: I thought we had a good tryout. We had a good number of players come and try out, and we’ll probably have a few more come in soon here because school hasn’t started and people are on vacation. We’ll at least take a look at some other guys. I thought the tryout went well. I think that we’re going to be in good shape. We still have some question marks to answer with regards to positions and who’s going to start, but we’re returning a good group of experienced players, so that should help us during the season.
It’s always a challenge to replace experienced players, especially experienced leadership ... But we’ve already got some leadership I think. We have some good vocal players, players who want to speak. Sometimes players are leaders but they don’t know how to do that verbally. I think we’ll have two players that people listen to and who are vocal on and off the field. But there are some question marks we need to answer, and we’ll find out this week what those questions are going to be and who’s going to step up and fill these roles.
I think one of those guys is going to be junior Paul Lujan. We’re really looking for him to be an impact player in the middle. And then we’re searching for who’s going to work with Paul in the center. As far as our wide midfielders, we should be returning people with some experience there with juniors Anthony Rodriguez and Giancarlo Aguila. Both of those guys did well in those respective positions last year, so we expect them to be stronger this year. We expect them to step up. Junior Jonathan Campos will be strong for us in the middle and on defense, and we’re looking for him to have a stellar season.
That’s a great question. Zander had a breakout season last year, so we’re looking for him to be consistent in that this year hopefully. You never know. But he’s going to be helped out a lot up front. We have a lot of firepower to go along with him with senior Juanito Hernandez Soto and sophomore Francisco Ibarra. Both those guys will be able to score a lot of goals. And we have some new guys this season who for some reason didn’t try out the previous years who can step it up on offense too, we think. Offensively we’ll be pretty strong.
What I really want to see is cooperation and coordination from the players. Are they cooperating with each other? Are they coordinating their defense and coordinating the attack? Are they organized? That comes from just experience in play. We can train for that and we can drill for that, and of course these guys know each other pretty well, but we want to see them under pressure from an opposing team to see how they coordinate their defense or their attack.
Jeremy Vernon can be reached at email@example.com or @jbo_vernon.
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