Mario Macias was named the 2017 Great Basin Conference and Times-News boys soccer player of the year, and he didn’t score a goal all season.
Not often does a defender receive that level of acclaim. Top goal-scorers understandably get more attention, since they account for the most important statistic in a sport with so few.
But there’s a simple reason why Macias, a junior at Wood River High School, earned those accolades over his striker and midfield peers.
“We were able to keep some of the best guys in the league scoreless, all due to the fact that Mario was able to lead us,” Wood River coach Luis Monjaras said.
Macias wasn’t merely a standout player in South Central Idaho, either. He led the Wolverines to their second state title in program history, and their first at the 4A level.
In its second and third games of the 2017 season, Wood River allowed four goals each to a pair of 5A schools: Rigby and Highland. After losing to Highland 4-3, the Wolverines never allowed more than two goals in a game again, and they only allowed two goals once (to Burley in Wood River’s second and final loss of the season).
Macias was the most important piece of Wood River’s defense, which averaged 0.9 goals allowed per game and shut out nine of the 20 opponents it faced.
“His speed helps him out a lot. He’s very aware of his field surroundings,” Monjaras said. “He’s very good with the ball. He has a lot of foot skills that allow him to control the ball and dribble with speed.”
Macias also displayed versatility. He often toggled between defense and midfield, and he played forward during the most intense stretch of Wood River’s season.
Wood River trailed Caldwell 1-0 with 10 minutes left in the 4A state championship game. Caldwell focused all of its energy on defense, so Monjaras responded by moving two defenders, including Macias, to offense.
“It worked in our favor,” Monjaras said.
Macias didn’t score, but Monjaras believes his presence forced pressure on the defense, opening up opportunities for his teammates. Sure enough, junior Jovany Armenta scored the tying goal in the 73rd minute, and freshman Audari Tamayo knocked in the game- and title-winner in the 76th.
“We’d do a lot of running and conditioning during practice, always at the end of practice, and we’d say, ‘These are the last 10 minutes of the game, so you guys have to push it,’” Macias said. “That’s what we did.”
Macias said he played every position, including a healthy amount of forward, in his early years of soccer, but his best role proved to be defense as he entered high school. He helped the Wolverines reach state as a freshman, but they went two-and-out at the tournament. The next year, they missed it altogether.
“I was really bummed for my teammates. Their senior year, they saw we had potential to do it, but we couldn’t get it done,” he said. “We said we would get it done the next year, put our heads into it and do what we had to do.”
After two years of disappointments, Wood River went 17-2-1, won its first conference title in eight years and captured its first state championship since 2003.
Macias and his returning teammates will try to defend those titles next fall. If his career is any indication, Macias’ defense will be just fine.