(A sign of success: North Canyon continues to see more players join its boys soccer program. Photo by Jose E. Garcia/aia365.com)
North Canyon’s boys soccer team won its season opener.
What makes this a big deal is the team North Canyon beat and the changes the program made in the past four seasons, which led to this year’s grand opening statement. Glendale Ironwood, a boys soccer Arizona high school super power, dropped a 2-1 decision to North Canyon.
Ironwood played a lot of games leading up to the North Canyon matchup, but, in the past, even beating a gassed Ironwood team seemed impossible for the north Phoenix school. But North Canyon is beginning to stall other teams thanks to the overhaul the school made in recent seasons.
It also helps that North Canyon’s players are maturing on and off the pitch, and some of them are growing up more quickly than others due to their tough family circumstances. Harnessing their talent for soccer success is North Canyon head coach Kelvin Reece and assistant coach Didi Zekila.
North Canyon’s soccer facelift started when Zekila joined the program four seasons ago. Zekila grew up Africa and France playing soccer and volunteered to help North Canyon.
“I think it was a matter of giving them (North Canyon players) a vision,” said Zekila, an account manager for Microsoft.
It was also a matter of taking care of business in the classroom.
A couple of the team’s leaders struggled at first to keep their grades up before becoming seniors, forcing them to miss playing time. But that is no longer an issue.
The issues a few of them now face or have experienced are at home. Homelessness. Single parent households. Having to work to help their families.
Zekila empathizes with his players’ hardships but also pushes them to better themselves.
“In this country it doesn’t matter where you come from or your family situation,” Zekila said. “If you work hard, success will follow.”
North Canyon’s coaching staff is doing its part, attracting more and more on-campus players to the soccer program and producing college quality players.
If this turns into North Canyon’s breakout season, look for seniors Marco Aguilar Reyes, a forward, defender Ernesto Uriarte, forward Andy Bailon, and defender Luis Mata to lead the way. Each player has faced their share of struggles along the way, but it’s only made them stronger.
Reyes is fast and is comfortable with the ball on his left or right foot. Rubio is one of the captains and scored a goal against Ironwood.
Bailon was injured last year but is healthy and ready to show off his skills this year. Mata is the first one on the field and the last one off.
“The way we come together as one,” said Reyes about the strength of his team. “We have different ethnicities and backgrounds on the team, but when we are on the field none of that matters. We are all friends.”
(North Canyon seniors (L-R) Ernesto Uriarte, Jorge Bailon, Victor Guzman, Peewee Gibson, Jesus Heredia Rodriguez, Marco Aguilar Reyes, Andy Bailon. Photo by Jose E. Garcia/aia365.com)