With just a couple of months before the start of the 2018 regular season, the Northwest College men’s soccer team continues to build an impressive roster. Coach Stan Rodrigues recently added three U.S. players to a lineup that features a healthy mix of American-born and international talent.
Forwards Braxton Maya and Jorge Ortega, along with striker Jonathan Reynoso have all committed to NWC for the fall, and are expected to make an immediate impact in terms of leadership, culture and athleticism, according to Rodrigues.
“I feel blessed to have the amount of heart that I have coming in this year,” Rodrigues said. “The common bond is that I bring people in who understand the dynamics of family. Our system is really about communication and being a family, and those are the kinds of kids I go out and look for.”
Looking to explore playing options out West, Maya, a midfielder from Avery County High School in North Carolina, set his sights on Wyoming.
“Though I live in North Carolina, I have always had a heart to get out West,” Maya said. “I love the beautiful landscape, and the kind-hearted people. I was disappointed to find out that the University of Wyoming didn’t have a soccer team, so as I began my search to find a college in Wyoming that did have a soccer team, [I] stumbled upon Northwest College in Powell.”
Maya reached out to Rodrigues, who welcomed his interest. Calling North Carolina “a hotbed of U.S. soccer,” the second-year coach said the sport has a huge following in that area of the country, and is producing quality players.
“When I got the call from Braxton, I was a little suspect,” Rodrigues explained. “That’s a long way from home. I asked him what his ties to Powell were, and it turns out he had met some NWC players at a camp.”
The players Maya met talked up the school and life in the Big Horn Basin, as did Rodrigues; that was all Maya needed to hear. A four-year starter in high school, Maya was an All-Conference selection his junior and senior years, leading the conference in goals and assists his senior season. Earmarked as an attacking player on the wing or at midfield, Rodrigues said Maya will be a welcome addition.
“His communication and his excitement to come to Powell is extremely apparent,” Rodrigues said. “He was one of the top scorers in the state of North Carolina, and he’s very well recognized at the high school level there. He’s been training with a bunch of D1 players right now, and he has a very good soccer IQ. He’s creative and unselfish with the ball, but he also knows how to finish when he has to. I’m excited to bring him in.”
Maya said he’s excited for the opportunity.
“I look forward to expanding my knowledge of this sport that I love so deeply, and also growing closer to my Trapper family on the soccer team,” he said.
Ortega is a veteran of the prestigious Azteca Football Club, a Division 1 premier league team in Sacramento, California. One of the oldest NWC recruits at 22, Ortega is also an accomplished coach, with experience at the high school varsity level, as well as with the Azteca youth soccer programs. Ortega believes his experience as a player and coach places him in a unique position to help the Trappers in many aspects of the game.
“My greatest passion is soccer,” Ortega said. “I’m a student of the game and I love to share knowledge to both youth and adults to see people thrive in this beautiful game.”
Long harboring a desire to play at the collegiate level, Ortega heard about NWC from Rose Shoen, an Azteca coach and friend of Rodrigues.
“I was intrigued by the opportunity, by the success of the program and also the ability to move players on to the next stages of their careers,” Ortega explained. “After one phone call with Coach Rodrigues, the objectives were clear and my mind was set on NWC. I wanted to go to a program, where everyone is motivated and driven to reach their personal goals and get to a higher level.”
After Ortega visited campus earlier this year, Rodrigues said he came away impressed with the young man’s passion for and knowledge of the game.
“The level of his maturity, his technical skill and his fitness is very hard to beat,” Rodrigues said. “He’s a leader, he knows what he wants to do. ... To get a player with his playing and coaching background to help connect this team together is a definite plus.”
As for Ortega, the season can’t start soon enough.
“I’m looking forward to getting to work with my teammates and immediately establishing a win-now mentality,” he said. “I really like the culture that’s been created at NWC and I can see the team being successful this season. It’s just up to myself and my teammates to work together on and off the field so we can accomplish our goals.”
Calling him a “diamond in the rough,” Rodrigues said Reynoso, of Madras, Oregon, is a gifted, quiet player who becomes a “bull in the china shop” when he gets on the ball.
“The guy [Reynoso] will run through people, walls, whatever’s in front of him,” Rodrigues said. “He’s technically gifted. He’s on the radar for many [MLS] academies, and he was the state player of the year in Oregon at the 3A level. He’s going to be a very tough player to handle on the field.”
A fixture on the pitch since the age of 7, Reynoso reached out to Rodrigues after hearing about NWC through a friend.
“I’m looking forward to playing at a higher level than high school and playing in a new environment with new people,” he said. “I’m also excited to see how I will fit into this team and I am hoping to accomplish a lot with this team.”
Rodrigues said he expects Reynoso to be a quiet leader for the Trappers on the pitch — and a headache for anyone in an opposing jersey.
“When I put him on the field and let him loose, I wouldn’t want to be the guy defending him,” the coach said.
Though the 2018 team is just about set, Rodrigues never stops recruiting, and that focus has paid off with the commitments he’s secured this offseason. But ever the pragmatist, he also knows having a loaded team doesn’t always equate to wins.
“With all the work we’ve done here, you just never know until the games are played,” he said. “We’re going to have anywhere between 30-40 kids by the time I’m done; it’s going to be almost like everyone at Northwest will be playing soccer this season. But at the end of the day, I have goals for this school, this team and myself and my staff. I really am excited to see what happens next.”