This could be title year for MJC men's soccer

It's been 12 years since the Modesto Junior College men's soccer team won a title.

Head coach Darrel Wilkins said it's about time the Pirates won another one, and he has just the right team to do it.

"This is probably the best group of players we've had here in 10 years," Wilkins said. "We just need to learn how good we really are."

That's high praise for such a young group, one whose top three returners hail from the 2004 team that last came close to winning a championship.

But there's no pressure surrounding the Pirates. Outside back Charlie George spoke free of worry, even after a 2-1 loss to Yuba on Tuesday.

"In a couple more games, we'll be fine," George said. "We just need to work on crossing and finishing."

Few of the Pirates have played together before, and largely not for winning programs, Wilkins said. Experience comes primarily from a trio who haven't played organized soccer in two years: Juan Leon, Martin Molina and Francisco "Kiko" Monares, who were on Modesto's 2004 playoff team.

Wilkins hopes the getting-to-know-you period is short. Winning the Big 8 Conference is a realistic goal with the talent he has, and that's not a prediction he can make every year.

MJC last won the Central Valley Conference crown in 1996 under head coach Gary Ard.

"We're the fastest and quickest we've been everywhere," said Wilkins, who enters his 10th year at the helm.

Modesto trailed Yuba 2-0 at halftime Tuesday, after Lino Maldonado had been served with a red card.

Officials also took away an apparent George goal when an MJC player made contact with the 49er goalkeeper.

Molina scored on a penalty kick with five minutes remaining to avoid the shutout.

The Pirates may have been a little flat early on, but Wilkins said that's partly due to fatigue. Modesto played four games in six days.

Wilkins has already seen glimpses of what the team is capable of. Modesto went 1-1-1 at the De Anza Tournament over the weekend.

Modesto played to a scoreless draw with No. 12 De Anza and defeated Evergreen 2-0. Wilkins said the team looked "very sharp" against De Anza, and blamed himself for a 4-1 opening loss to West Valley.

"We'd literally had 10 training days before our first game," Wilkins said. "I didn't know the players well enough and I didn't substitute enough."

Freshman forward Victor Perez has been going to school but took a two-year break from school soccer after graduating from Ceres High. He'd like to help Modesto win a title and end a two-year playoff drought.

"I want to score at least one goal per game," Perez said. "We need to move more and talk more, just communicate."