The historic 2019 Boys Soccer Season came to a close as Lanier lost by a 3-0 scoreline to SA Southwest in the Area Round of Playoffs. The Vikings started the game with incredible energy and enthusiasm – their confidence buoyed by the raucous support of the traveling Lanier fans who made the 50 mile trip down I-35 on a Tuesday night. Lanier were the much stronger team in the opening 20 minutes, but their superiority did not lead to a breakthrough as the first half ended 0-0. An early goal conceded to Southwest on a well executed set play forced the Vikings to open up and leave themselves more vulnerable at the back. With the deficit at just 1-0, the team created two clear chances to score, but both efforts narrowly missed the target. As Lanier tried to chase an equalizer, it was Southwest who found the net two more times to finish off the game in the closing minutes.
This team may go down in the record books as the most successful Lanier Boys Soccer team of all time. The school lacks a pipeline of club players, has no pedigree of success in high school soccer, and as recently as 2014 Lanier finished winless and last place in district. Fast forward to 2019 and the Vikings have qualified for playoffs three years running, finishing in T-2nd, 3rd, and 2nd in district. The 2019 team has a legitimate claim as the strongest team in Austin ISD. Lanier finished ahead of all of the Austin ISD competition in District 25-5A, and in a season when no AISD 6A schools qualified for playoffs, it would be argue with such a claim.
These Lanier Vikings also defied every negative stereotype about high school players in North Austin. Long known for wasteful, flashy individualism, this team is about the collective. Their unselfishness is evident in the numbers as joint-leading goalscorers 1st Team All-District Selection Rodrigo Suarez and District 25 Newcomer of the Year Josue Montalvan had only 9 goals and five players scored at least 6 times. Short-tempered and disorganized? These Vikings studied film of the opposition and changed formations to exploit the weaknesses of each opponent. They are a patient, tactically flexible group who can play multiple positions based on the plan and game conditions.
As we look back to reflect on the achievements of the 2019 Lanier Vikings, the enormous challenges our boys face just to compete in high school soccer should be noted. Most of our players do not have the resources to play on year-round club soccer teams. On the playoffs roster only seven (out of 23) played on select teams in the Fall, and this included two freshman who were promoted to Varsity late in the season. The Lanier kids who are priced out of club soccer instead work on their games through a low-cost amalgamation of Indoor Soccer, Adult leagues, and pick-up games. The grass practice field the team trains on, despite recent years of improved care under AD Jacob Anderson, is substandard compared to other AISD campuses and deplorably inadequate against the new astroturf enjoyed by virtually all other schools in the region.
Lanier’s district record of 9-3-2 was hugely impressive, but the season did not start well for Lanier. In non-district play, the Vikings won only 2 of 7 games. Some of the losses were lopsided, as the team was outscored 14-1 in three games against Red Oak, Leander, and Pflugerville. The return to full fitness of Senior captain and 1st Team All-District Cubo Hernandez certainly helped in district competition as his holding midfield play shored up a leaky defense. The unquestioned leader of the team, his superb play in front of the defense and ability to organize on the field brought about a dramatic turnaround as the 2.9 goals/game conceded in preseason was reduced to a stingy 1.2/game in district. The play of Ray Rodriguez between the posts was another factor in the defensive turnaround. His performances- 16 goals conceded in 14 games and a 79% save percentage – made him the unanimous Golden Gloves Award winner in District 25.
Equally important to the team’s success was the evolution of District 25 Offensive MVP Luis Lopez at the other end of the field. To follow up an impressive debut varsity campaign in which he made a name for himself with 14 Goals, Luis turned the extra defensive attention he received as a senior into opportunities for his teammates, producing 14 assists to go with 8 goals. In an inversion of typical player profiles, it was central midfielders Rodrigo Suarez (9 goals) and 2nd Team All-District Juan Alvarez (6) who finished many of the opportunities created by Luis.
Two players whose contributions did not fill up the stat sheet, but were integral to the team’s success, were starting center back partners Michael Varela and Chris Torres who earned 1st and 2nd team All-District selections respectively. Their leadership and poise formed the backbone for Lanier’s defense which conceded just 17 goals in 14 district games and never more than two in a game. Michael is a ball-playing center back whose ability to pick out forward passes breaking lines is unmatched in our district. Chris embodies the fighting spirit of the Vikings by throwing his weight around, every ounce of his 120 pounds, against the strongest, most physical forwards in every game.
There have been rosters with much more talent to play for Lanier, but this is the best team we’ve had in my 5 years as Head Coach. They put so much into the preparation, work so hard for the team, and care so much about representing their school and community. Soccer is more than just a game on our campus. In high school athletics today, success correlates very strongly with funding, facilities, and income. This team has none of those advantages, but what they lack in financial resources they make up for ten times over with passion, fearlessness, and heart.
The full extent of the challenges our kids face and the sacrifices their families make to allow their sons to play high school soccer will only ever be known inside our locker room. As a coach who grew up only a few miles away in the comfortable, privileged suburbs of Northwest Austin, I have found the tenacious resilience of Lanier players to be inspirational. When I reflect on their achievements this season, I am so proud of the boys that it feels as though my heart could burst right out of my chest. With our school’s name reportedly set to change this could be the last ever Lanier Boys Soccer team, and their accomplishments in 2019 will be remembered as a worthy final act.