February 10, 2023
By Greg SelberClick here for select game photos
Their new coach, as the Jags prepared for a big home match against an eternally bitter rival, said many profound things. One that stood out was, “If we do what we do, we’ll be fine.”
At that, Juan Rodriguez was off and running into the fray, and his Econ kids were to show that when they do what they do, i.e., play elegant, quick-touch football, especially off set pieces, they are hard to handle.
EHS found this out the hard way Friday as the Bobcats ended up on the short end of a 3-2 result, thanks to some masterful and tricky work on corner kicks and throw-ins, and also thanks to some tremendous athletic performances from the resurgent Jags. Rodriguez, who spent three seasons as an assistant under former girls’ coach Robert Garcia, has ridden the head coaching rodeo well in the past, during a six-year stint at Raymondville. He took over the Econ program in place of long-time coach Sam Gonzalez, and after one of the most difficult seasons in program annals. Long among the gold standard teams in town, with multiple titles in the school trophy case, the Orange fell hard in 2021-22, missing the playoffs. But with a young and fiery coach on hand now they have risen, and came into the grudge match against EHS having carved out wins in 11 of 18 results before league play began, with just three losses. They had hammered P-SJ-A, 3-0 in Tuesday’s lid-lifter for 31-6A while the Bobcats had nudged past Mission, 1-0.
Rodriguez said that this year’s crew might not be quite as fast as some of the East Side juggernauts of the past, but he likes their passing ability, the way they communicate, and their cohesion as a unit. The Harlingen South High graduate, Class of 1999, is working on bringing back the vibe that made Econ such a powerhouse in years past. Early returns: promising.
“We have been working to develop that this season, getting the fans out here, meeting with parents, that sort of thing,” said Rodriguez, who proved to be intense on the touchline, often roaming nearer the action to get in some advice to the guys or to remind a referee of something he, Rodriguez, thought the good fellow in yellow might have missed. “I think we’re starting to feel that, the connection and that always makes a team play better, when it knows the fans are behind it all the way. For one of our games, Garcia even came out and cooked outside, like they used to do.”
His counterpart in action Friday was long-time Bobcat skipper Luis Cardenas, whose side has its scrapes with the Jags in the past, plenty of them. This season the ‘Cats, despite their opening victory, had been hit and miss in the non-district portion as they sought to replace a handful of graduated seniors who long had the program riding high in its usual playoff mode. Friday, leading scorer Dilan Cazares, the scourge of district defenses for three seasons, was in street clothes via injury. Also missing from the team sheet was regular starter Cesar Tovar.
“This has been a struggle honestly, we just don’t have the numbers right now, like we have in the past,” Cardenas explained. “Not sure why, sometimes it just happens that way. Look at our bench, we have four guys … there have been times this year when we have had only 11 to play, no subs, so that has been difficult.”
The boys had the early muster for the doubleheader and near 6 p.m., the field at Jags was full of players, but the stands held few fans, especially on the visitors’ side. There were a few Bobcat rooters, and a gaggle of girls warmed up for the football by playfully calling out the numbers of some of the EHS players, who were lining up and running, playing with the ball. At one point, someone in the seats called out a guy’s number, and everyone laughed. The player, surprised at this attention, asked a teammate who they were talking about, to which the fans doubled over with laughter. Good times.
As the game got closer, the crowd filled up a bit, and soon it was to task, the Jags bent on coming out to defend their home ground with energy and purpose. EHS, knowing its depth was scant, dug in and prepared for a long slog. On the other side, the Jags grouped together for a picture, a practice that has become almost obligatory in the modern game. Rodriguez snapped the shot hurriedly and grumbled at his cats to get ready to go. He is a stern if pleasant taskmaster and seems to have taken to the kids, vice versa for sure.
“We need to make a statement!” he stressed as some of the Jags bounced up and down quietly, others bowing their heads in concentration. “We want to be at the top after tonight!”
And at that, the Orange issued forth with a bellowing cheer, a fact the ‘Cats noticed with a start from the other side. It was on.
At the kickoff, the Jags came roaring down led by an impressive contingent of attackers, the force directed by a pair of agile midfielders and a raging river on the left. Bryan Garcia, the sturdy veteran, proved early that he has lost nothing from his repertoire of abilities, riding challenges with strength and slaloming downfield, eyes up. Fellow vet Rene Galvan, taller than his counterpart, slimmer, is expert on the ball and has excellent vision too. Often, in the first stages, those two advanced on the Bobcat defense, both looking for long and lean Randy Galvan, who was showing his ball skills and dribbling prowess on the left, jinking around Bobcats and getting into dangerous positions. Freshman Jose Villarreal is another promising prospect for the Jags, a long-legged strider who passed the well Friday, giving the Orange yet another option on the ball as they flick quick passes to the open space.
As Rodriguez’ players raced downfield, Edinburg relied on defender Zamid Abundiz, among others, and the EHS No. 12 was a busy bee in the first 10-15 minutes, trying to contain the potent runs of the Galvan Boys and Garcia, who were bossing it around somewhat. The Bobcats looked to get into attack and Cardenas knows that in Ethan Garcia and Cristian Castillo, he’s got a pair of stars who have proven they are first-class athletes out there. The rangy Garcia was to find the going rough for stretches on Friday, but his quality began to shine as time wore on. Castillo, who seems stronger and more focused than he was last season – and by no means was he neither of these things in 2021-22, when he was a vital contributor to the playoff push – got some fine touches on the ball, using lightning quickness and surprising lower body strength to surge into the final third and cause mischief.
The Econ defensive crew assigned to keep an eye on the strikers is an interesting group. Erick Obregon is a returning starter for the Jags as is Angel Limon, and both are smart thinkers out there who maximize their physical gifts and add a layer of experience that it so important to solidarity in back. They would be challenged by the Bobcat attack, including a little guy from last year who is not so little anymore.
Jesus Torres, better known as “Pollo,” has bulked up with a year’s worth of growth after some strong moments as a freshman, and Friday he was going to have his say in matters. With terrific balance, deceptive quickness and improved stamina, the ball-dancing Torres will certainly be one of the leaders of the season adventure. Against the Jags he was to enjoy some sensational highlights, of the “now you see me, now you don’t” variety. He created a free kick opportunity with a shifty run but down came Econ with the rebound, with Rene Galvan slicing a ball out wide to wingback Eduardo Leal, a strongly built sophomore. When the Jags marshaled a shot attempt, EHS defender Duilio Luevano, one of the many from that fine family of cats who have worn the shirt at EHS, came up to volley away, first time. Kevin Aguilar in goal for the ‘Cats, clapped his gloves together loudly at that one.
Now the Jags began to illustrate what their coach had been talking about in the pregame. They won two corners in quick succession, each yielding a wrinkle that the Orange had surely been working on, on the training ground. One came short with a speedy pass back to the original corner taker; the second was similar, a little trick, quick whip of the ball around the perimeter, whereas most teams just send corners into the box hoping for a header. The way Econ shaped these set pieces showed that Rodriguez, rather than sticking to what has been done in the past, is innovative and experimental. And these derivations off the usual were going to test the EHS defense consistently.
Leal now launched up for a shot at goal, with Abundiz, a good-size lad, coming through with a quality header on D, on 32 minutes. Rene Galvan had it next for Econ and he exhibited fancy footwork to maneuver close to goal. His long shot was parried and the ‘Cats survived, with right back Jaydon Moncivais (his older brother played several seasons with the ‘Cats) making a solid defensive play. The younger Moncivais appears to have the same toughness his brother always provided, and turned in several tackles, some on the slide, as Friday unwound.
Abundiz stepped in now to halt an Econ advance which went Garcia to junior Juan David Rios, but in an instant it was 1-nil. The perpetrator of the point was the tall and angular Randy Galvan, who motored into gear on the left, deftly picked his way through a couple of defenders, and cracked off a monster of a blast, searing the net at 28:33. That was old school Jags right there, a dynamite individual move bringing the faithful to their feet. Golazo, sin duda!
Now the ‘Cats were piqued and responded with a sharp sequence that started with backliner Miguel Oliveras and continued with burly midfielder Dante Luevano on the ball, but that was stymied by a strong defensive step-in by Garcia of Econ, a true box-to-box type. On 25 minutes, the visitor continued to counter the Jag surge, as Moncivais produced a hammer blow off a free kick, to a goal catch. Torres boogied on the ball between two Jags but could not quite manage the shot, but Cardenas’ side appeared to be settling in. Halfway through the half, Oliveras got up for a run to the box, the ‘Cats colliding with the keeper but nearly finding some magic.
The magic, though, came from the East Siders, who ambled down with some laser-like passes until Rene Galvan struck a bullet up high that evaded the grasp of the keeper and went into the net at 18:48. Another trademark of past Jag sides, the ability to strike fast, especially after an opponent’s foray downfield. Seems to be intact for Rodriguez’ edition. Mix and match.
But two can play that game and now it was EHS, storming into the box, and Cardenas rollicked on the side as Torres knocked one in off a corner, pulling one back. Very prideful goal as EHS didn’t wilt under the pressure, but instead clawed its way back in.
Soon it was sophomore Juan Lugo, a versatile kid who can play multiple positions, trying his luck on a restart for Econ, and on a scramble soon after, Duilio Luevano was equal to it, clearing against two Jags after an Econ corner.
At 13:30, Torres smashed a lefty shot that troubled the keeper, directly after Oliveras had made a key defensive stop. Now it was Randy Galvan and junior forward Juan Carlos Rios banging back and forth with wall passes, mincing the EHS defense with quick feeds and communication, as their coach had suggested they would do. But then, Castillo ran free for the Bobcats, getting one-on-one with the keeper; he nearly equalized and would have done so had it not been for the exploits of keeper Ponciano Vazquez, who established himself as a football hero on the gridiron with some clutch kicks in the fall for Coach Raul Salas. Randy Galvan again cruised into the box, the ball on a string, but as soon as his shot was parried, on came the visitor.
Complications. At 8:05 of the half, the home side committed a hard foul in the area and the result was penalty, dispatched expertly by Pollo to make it 2-2. Shocking development and it showed that the Red and Blue, up against it in terms of depth, were not going to go lightly in this Rivalry Fixture that has given so much joy and sorrow through the years. What a match!
EHS finished the half on a real roll with Moncivais tackling everything in sight, Castillo powering in for a close look at goal, and Garcia getting near the go-ahead tally inside the final minute. Having had their confidence shaken a tad, the Jags trotted off the field at the horn, ready to regroup.
Ironically, the pell mell pace of the first half action led to a slight retrenchment by the rivals, less end-to-end soccer and more patient buildup after the interval. Moncivais raced back to his own goal to head a loose one to safety early on and at the other end, EHS kept the pressure on when possible. Moncivais dummied past on a free kick, and up stepped Ramon Oliveras, who had some excellent plays Friday: nothing doing, as Econ defended well. It took another major clearance from the Jags to stop the next EHS foray and Cardenas’ club was feeling its oats now, with Garcia starting to get space for his long-limbed ball work. Ramon Oliveras popped in another free kick but again, Econ did what it had to do to retain the deadlock.
It reached 10 minutes in, and a shock goal was scored by Econ. After the Jags had been more or less been played off the pitch to start the half, they rallied with a flash to send a ball in from the left, and on the scrum inside, the Bobcats knocked in a possible own goal, although the home side credited the scoring blow to Jag Villarreal. Either way, this moment would prove to be decisive.
Castillo tried to ease the nerves for EHS with a great catch of a pass and a sudden journey into the attacking third; later Moncivais advanced to chip one in, lefty, but now Econ was recovered fully and did not flinch. The action turned physical now, as it often does when these two square off, and Torres of EHS picked his way through the bodies to fashion a chance on 25 minutes. He has vastly improved in every area of the game, puro Pollo!
Econ had to rediscover its offensive form, and a nice feed from Rene to Randy Galvan out wide seemed to help. But the EHS defense got the ball back to Castillo, who pulled it back with one foot, clipped it with the other, and slipped around a defender, making one of the best moves of the night. It was back and forth in the midsection, neither side gaining much traction until Castillo combined with Torres to create a shooting chance. Though they led, 3-2, the Jags were struggling to keep up with the dogged Bobcats, and Rodriguez ran some subs in there over the last 20 minutes to get fresh legs into the action. Abundiz of the ‘Cats was working overtime to contain the potent Galvan on the left, as those two engaged in memorable battles down the stretch.
Seeking to kill this one off, the Jags got a superb run from Garcia, who was smashed twice by Bobcats on his way into the area but kept moving, and Econ came close on 13 minutes.
But Garcia of EHS and the whirlwind Castillo would have another shot or two before full time as the ‘Cats desperately sought the equalizer. In the final minutes, the Jags topped off their form and energy to close it out, Garcia again proving his worth on defense by steaming back from the midfield to stop an EHS chance. When the Jags went on offense again, they seemed close to the fourth goal, but Abundiz capped a workmanlike shift with a decisive header intervention. At the wire, EHS expired, unable to complete the comeback but having put forth a supreme effort in the attempt.
Rodriguez well praised the play of his kids, and yet was not entirely satisfied with the consistency of the night. He said that based on the way Econ started, with the two slick goals, it might have been easier than it turned out to be. He was right, and part of that is just down to the way the ‘Cats manned up and got off the deck to throw some quality hands. From mid-first half to mid-second, EHS was solid and dangerous, on an even keel with the talented Jags. But as has been the case in the past, the Orange was able to seize various moments with displays of skill, benefiting besides from the unfolding of the game-winning goal.
Cardenas could not complain too much about the result and was pleased with the way his kids responded to adversity.
“When we started putting more pressure, we improved our chances,” said the manager after the final whistle. “We made a few mistakes, though, at each end, and they cost us. Econ is a good team, they touched the ball well, but tonight we didn’t give up at all, we played to the end.”