WENDELL • Jorge Valera’s senior season doesn’t boil down to one game – it’s never fair to do that – but one fall Friday afternoon perfectly sums up what he meant to the Wendell boys soccer team.
The Trojans trailed 5-2 to Weiser with about 10 minutes to play in the 3A semifinals. Heads had been down for a while, but Wendell’s captain kept his up. Soon, he ripped a free kick that would spark arguably the greatest comeback in Idaho prep soccer’s brief history.
“It went through my head. I thought, ‘Is it over? No, it can’t be over,’” said Valera, the 2014 Times-News boys soccer player of the year. “I just kept trying harder and harder. After I made that shot, it was 3-5, and everybody started believing again. We knew we could still win.”
When his team needed him most, Valera scored three goals and assisted on a fourth.
Valera prefers not to say he took over, alluding to a team effort, but Wendell inarguably followed his lead as he willed them past Weiser and ultimately on to the state championship.
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An attacking midfielder, Valera had 25 goals and seven assists. He would have had many more assists from setting up players that won penalty kicks, but Valera was Wendell’s penalty taker. In 20 games, Wendell lost just once – and he didn’t play in that game, according to the Trojans’ game log.
“He’s been a four-year starter, so he’s been really important in terms of the competitiveness of our team. We were very excited about this year with players like Jorge returning, but it was necessary that we would have those leaders to go the distance,” said Wendell coach Jonathan Goss. “He’s got a real passion for the game and we were fortunate this season that we had so many players where this game is everything to them.”
More, the senior exemplified captaincy. Early on in that semifinal game, he took aside a teammate who had made a mistake that resulted in a goal, explaining how Weiser was exploiting the player and how to stop it. There was no arguing, no accusing – simple guidance. It was a departure from years past and a product of belief – not his, necessarily, but that of his teammates and coaching staff.
“I remember when they were choosing captains and they chose me. I talked to Goss and said I didn’t think I could be a captain,” said Valera, who hopes to play college soccer. “He told me just to fight through it and I’d do well. He believed in me, and it was good for me. I took care of my team.”