Like the cleats that wrap his feet, the pressure and expectation have become a part of Escalon High soccer star Guillermo Alvarez.
He is a captain for the defending Trans-Valley League champion and their leading scorer over the last two seasons.
When he’s not cutting back onto his right foot – a dangerous proposition for any goalie – Alvarez is setting up teammates at an alarming rate, fueling a potent offense.
Alvarez is the voice in the huddle and the example in practice. And he’s only a sophomore.
“The physical talent and the skills are amazing, but what sets him apart is his work ethic,” said Escalon coach Paul Silva, now in his 12th season with the program. “The kids naturally follow him because he’s the best player but also because he’s the hardest-working player. It makes my job that much easier. … He’s one of the most positive, hard-working kids I’ve ever come across.”
And he’s thrived in soccer’s move to the winter. While Mother Nature has tried to stifle the beautiful game with wind and rain, Alvarez finds a way.
“He’s a transcendent player for this program,” Silva said.
Alvarez tallied two goals and two assists in a 7-2 victory over Ripon on Monday evening. The Cougars (9-0-1) are now unbeaten in 10 games, including 2-0 in the TVL.
Senior striker Hector Rodriguez also notched a brace, while Chris Gallo, Andrew Benitez and Erik Paez had one goal apiece. Armando Gonzalez dished out two assists for the Cougars, who have outscored their first two league opponents 12-3.
Escalon travels to Mountain House on Wednesday.
Ripon coach Bryant Macias said the Cougars are deserving frontrunners in the TVL, and their strength lies in the attacking third – Alvarez’s playground.
Alvarez ranks among the Sac-Joaquin Section’s leaders in goals (13), assists (10) and points (36), according to MaxPreps.
Rodriguez isn’t far behind with 12 goals and three assists.
“They are a very talented team,” Macias said. “Their midfield and forwards are strong, but their defense needs more work. I feel they have the ability to win the title again, but they need to work on their back line if they want to get to the section championship.”
For a community with a rich soccer culture but just one Sac-Joaquin Section title (1996), Silva and Alvarez temper expectation with a head-down approach.
“We’re looking to defend our title – the TVL championship. That’s our main objective,” Silva said. We want “the favorable playoff seeding and to be able to host a couple of playoff games … and atone for how the season ended last year. We definitely want to have a better showing in the playoffs. It all starts with winning league.”
As freshmen, Alvarez and three others – Denis Pineda, Jonathan Valeriano and Ross Calderon – were picked by Silva to revive a program that had fallen on hard times.
After winning 13 or more games in Silva’s first four seasons, Escalon totaled just 25 over the next four without a playoff appearance.
It all happened so quickly.
Alvarez had nine goals and a team-high 10 assists, earning the TVL’s Outstanding Offensive Player award.
Escalon won 14 games – its most since 2009 – and pieced together its best performance in a 3-1 victory over Hilmar in the regular season finale. The victory set the Cougars on a favorable postseason path, but the No. 2 seed was knocked out in the first round of the Division V tournament by Delhi, 3-0.
Escalon is 1-4 in the postseason under Silva, who took over the varsity program in 2007.
“How last year’s senior class came together and the leadership they showed, I wanted it for them,” Silva said. “I wanted them to do well in the playoffs. It was a disappointing end to the season. I carry that.”
His current roster is motivated by more immediate goals, such as preserving the streak. The Cougars have won nine straight games. The only blemish is a 3-3 tie with Linden in their season opener.
“The guys, they want to go out and compete every day,” Silva said. “I know sections is in the back of their minds, but it’s more about defending league and going through unscathed.”
The linchpin is Alvarez, whose celebrity isn’t confined to the soccer field. Alvarez has become a favorite of football coach and athletic director Mark Loureiro, who made Alvarez his varsity kicker late in the fall.
In five games, Alvarez converted both field goals with a long of 32 yards. He also put four kickoffs into the end zone.
“Coach Lou said he has a future as a kicker on the football field,” Silva said. “He’s just naturally good at everything he does. He could be a cross-country star if he wanted to. It’s just amazing the amount of talent and drive he has.”