As the Long Beach Poly boys’ soccer team enters the second round of Moore League play, they find themselves in a tough spot.
After a less than ideal start to their league campaign the Jackrabbits (5-1-2) had gotten hot of late, winning three games in six days to set up a massive home showdown with Wilson (6-0-1) this past Friday. In this match however, the second place Jackrabbits ended up gaining no ground on the first place Bruins.
The two teams played to a dramatic 1-1 draw. A result that could’ve been much different had Poly not been without their star attacking midfielder, Omar Juarez, who has been out after suffering a head injury early last week.
When he was a young soccer player, Juarez didn’t always enjoy his time on the pitch.
“My parents noticed that I was a natural when I was little, so they saw that and knew I had a future in soccer,” Juarez said. “They kept pushing me into it until I fell in love. It took me a while, and I kind of hated it at first, but after a while I started to like it.”
After starting at the age of three, soccer has become a hobby that Juarez has never grown out of,much to his benefit.
“Playing soccer helps keep me off the street,” Juarez joked. “It keeps me focused, and I guess that’s what the main purpose of playing a sport is.”
When talking about Juarez’s development on and off the pitch, Poly head coach Eric Leon explained, “I think my familiarity with his background, being able to connect with him, and getting to know him on the personal level, has helped us to create a good bond between each other.”
Currently a senior at Poly, Juarez has been on varsity since his sophomore year when the Jackrabbits took home their first Moore League title in 15 years. In this first year of varsity action however, Juarez didn’t feature much for a Poly team that was full of talented upperclassmen.
Instead, Juarez broke out last Spring, with a number of crucial goals and assists that helped the Jackrabbits capture back to back Moore League titles for only the second time in program history.
“He did everything last year. That kid just stepped up overall” said assistant coach Carlos Casillas. “You could tell he loves the game, and has a ton of passion for it. He takes the game toa whole different level and everyone else just follows.”
“I think his physical presence and incredible technicality on the ball, really helped us control the midfield,” said Poly senior Luke Brown, who has also been on varsity with Juarez for the past three seasons. “Not only was he a phenomenal goalscorer (last year), but he also put in that work defensively in the midfield, which really helped us going forward.”
Last season’s sensational play saw Juarez win Co-Moore League MVP, alongside Millikan’s Jesus Moreno. In addition to this, he also finished with All League honors.
Coming into this season, Juarez explained that he was looking to work on the mental side of his game, in order to help the Jackrabbits capture a third consecutive league title.
“When you play any sport, you’re not always gonna win,” said Juarez. “By staying mentally strong you can help your team stay focused, especially through the ups and downs.”
“He’s definitely matured beyond his age,” Leon said. “We always have non-soccer related conversations, and I try to share some of my imperfections to help him be a better person on and off the field. I feel like that’s why we’re able to complement each other well.”
Juarez has already put in a number of standout performances so far this season, but none more impressive than his contributions in Poly’s 4-1 against Cabrillo earlier this month. Coming on at halftime with his team already up 1-0, Juarez won a penalty, converted said penalty, and played key passes in the build ups to the other two second half goals for the Jackrabbits.
With fortunes appearing to be on the up, Juarez and the Jackrabbits took on Millikan last Monday. Poly ended up grinding out a tough 2-1 victory that wasn’t without personnel losses, as Juarez was sidelined after just 15 minutes with a head injury.
“We were going through protocols and he just wasn’t feeling good enough so that’s why we had to pull him out of the game,” Casillas said. “He’s a great player so sometimes the fouls are a little extra hard, but usually the kid can take it.”
Returning back to their matchup with Wilson this past Friday, the Jackrabbits led 1-0 for nearly the entire match, before the Bruins equalized in the 70th minute to steal a point on the road.
“(Omar) would’ve drastically changed that game,” Leon said. “It’s like adding another (David Huerta) in there. We played well enough without him to at least get some shots on goal.”
Poly hosts Compton today.
Long Beach Poly was 10 minutes away from pulling Wilson back to the Moore League boys’ soccer chase pack while also putting itself in position to grab a third consecutive league title. Wilson’s Luke Garza had other plans. A shift in formation put Garza in perfect position to net the equalizer in the 70th minute […]