High School Boys Soccer

Cougars’ backline playing above and beyond

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 3/5/21

Cinco Ranch boys soccer coach Fredy Sanguinetti and his players heard the whispers of the doubters.

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High School Boys Soccer

Cougars’ backline playing above and beyond

Posted

Cinco Ranch boys soccer coach Fredy Sanguinetti and his players heard the whispers of the doubters.

They’re too young. (Maybe, but it apparently doesn’t matter). Rebuilding year. (LOL). They don’t have a defense. (Ummm …).

Senior-heavy last season, the Cougars are top-heavy in underclassmen this year, but it’s done nothing to interrupt success. Cinco Ranch is 12-1-2, sitting atop a typically intense and highly competitive District 19-6A at 7-1-2, and it starts with defense and a quickly maturing young backline of sophomores Santi Taborda and Jake Manzi, junior Marcos Valecillos and freshman Ossian Elgstrom.

In 10 district games, the Cougars have surrendered 10 goals. That is the second fewest in a district that has three teams ranked in the region in Seven Lakes, Tompkins, and, yes, Cinco Ranch.

“Their growth in big games has been impressive,” Sanguinetti said of his back four. “What I love about it is, at the beginning, everybody was saying how we don’t have a defense. Right now, we’re doing pretty good, and it’s a credit to them stepping up.”

The Cougars’ experience lies in the midfield, specifically in talented senior midfielders Andres Liendo and Hunter Cain, who have combined for nine goals and eight assists in district play. They are the backbone of the club with their leadership and know-how. Junior midfielders Seba Rodriguez and John Ortiz are stabilizers, and sophomore midfielder Julio Colmenares is emerging as a standout.

Defensively, however, Cinco Ranch wasn’t supposed to be much. The only returner was Taborda, whose lone varsity experience was starting three games before the pandemic canceled the rest of last season.

But it is a group that has played beyond its years and eased pressure on senior goalkeepers Ollie Cappis and Rodrigo Verduguez, who have shared time in net with Cappis earning recent starts.

“We go after every ball,” Taborda said. “We don’t care who’s on the field, we’re going to be aggressive and pursue, no matter what.”

It’s a group that sacrifices for the greater good.

In Sanguinetti’s 4-1-4-1 scheme, which he implemented this year to accommodate his personnel, the backline is asked to not be as involved in the attack as some might be accustomed to.

Sanguinetti’s scheme calls for his backline to oftentimes surrender the glory of playing up and making a run in the attack or taking a touch in the back. He asks his defenders to quickly give up possession to the middle to initiate transition.

“They hustle really well and they’re very coachable,” Sanguinetti said. “They take to the type of defense and the type of effort we need from them. Even though they might not want to play our style, they will do what’s best for the team.”

Manzi credits the unit’s work ethic, accountability and attention to mistakes. Youth is not excused, but there is an understanding that mistakes are forgivable if the team can build from them.

“We’re very talented, considering that people overlook us because we’re young,” Manzi said. “They think we’re not as good as we are, but we’re proving that we are. We communicate and we all have trust in one another.”

The season has surprised Sanguinetti, pleasantly and not so pleasantly. The good: The Cougars swept a tough Tompkins team and have wins over Houston area powers Seven Lakes and Friendswood. The worrisome: a 3-2 loss and 1-1 tie to Morton Ranch, a physically gifted team but one that will not make the playoffs.

It’s the ebbs and flows of a young team, though one that is in a stronger position than many may have expected.

“Having this young group, I feel we’ve been tested,” Sanguinetti said. “I don’t want to put a ceiling on it, but I’m so proud of them. These guys were told by different people of how much we were missing, of what we didn’t have. Right now, we’re just proud of where we are.”

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