PHARR — After every game, Valley View senior goalkeeper Elian Chavez and junior forward Mario De Los Santos say the same phrase to each other: “With Elian in the back and Mario in the front, we win.”
That has certainly been true this year, as the Valley View Tigers are undefeated (31-0) and on the way to the state tournament.
The Tigers will face Frisco Wakeland at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Birkelbach Field in Georgetown in the UIL Class 5A state semifinals.
But that phrase has also been true ever since the two were little. They started playing together when they were 4 years old. The two grew up in Reynosa, Mexico. Chavez remembers De Los Santos’ father was the coach on one of their teams. That time period is when they developed their saying.
By now, most people know De Los Santos for his performance on the pitch this year. The junior forward has scored 69 goals, putting him three shy of the school record set by Jose “Torito” Soto, who played for the Tigers from 2011-14.
“The record is great,” De Los Santos said. “But I don’t care about those things that much. I would give up all of my goals to get the one that brings home the state title.”
Chavez has made his mark for the Tigers this year, too. In the Class 5A regional quarterfinals, Brownsville Lopez came back after Valley View built a 2-0 lead to force the game into penalty kicks. Chavez stopped two of the three penalties he faced to help the Tigers advance to the regional tournament.
“It was difficult, because we were in danger of losing and having our season end. Everything we worked for,” Chavez said. “We were up 2-0 for much of the game, and then in five minutes, it was tied. Thank God we got the win.”
Chavez and De Los Santos played together for many years in Reynosa before Chavez left for the United States. The two were separated for five years.
“We were always in contact,” Chavez said. “We would give each other support and talk to each other about our future.”
They were reunited when De Los Santos came to Valley View. Back on the pitch together again, they brought back their catchphrase, and they picked up right where they left off in their friendship.
“He is like a brother,” De Los Santos said. “We are both very down-to-earth. We are both very good people. We have a lot of trust in each other.”
Chavez can make every save he is asked to, whether it is high or low, left or right. He also excels with the ball at his feet. His ability to play the ball after a save allows the team to push up quickly.
“Elian has the talent to play out in the field, but he’s such a good goalie that it demands that he play back there,” Valley View coach Damian Magallan said. “He could play as a winger for this team, but we have two very talented players on the wings that play that role already.
“He does every part of the job of goalie well. … He has so many talents, which is why he is in the position he is in. I believe him to be the best goalie of this year, because he has all of the talent. And when he leaves, he will be going to a great college.”
Magallan assumes Chavez could play in the field. De Los Santos has already seen it.
“He was always the goalie,” De Los Santos said of Chavez. “But I remember one season, he played up front, and of course, he played very well up there, also.”
Magallan spoke highly of the middle of his formation, calling it the “backbone of the team.” That group begins and ends with the duo from Reynosa, but other skilled players factor in the middle, as well.
“I’m not at all effective without a good defense, just like Mario is no good without the players behind him,” Chavez said. “All of those players are great. We have a great team.”
“Everyone likes to call me a ‘star,’” De Los Santos added. “But I believe we have 11 stars.”
Chavez and De Los Santos were dominant even when they were younger, playing together in Mexico.
Sophomore teammates Carlos Medina and Rogelio Saldivar grew up in a different part of Reynosa. They never really knew De Los Santos, but they always knew of him, because his talents were so well renowned.
De Los Santos’ ability has only become more recognizable since he arrived at Valley View.
Another factor is driving De Los Santos nowadays. Each of his 69 goals this year had added meaning. De Los Santos dedicates every goal to his late grandmother, Paola Castillo. Castillo died in 2005.
“My grandma has a special meaning for me,” De Los Santos said. “When she was here, she came to every game. She always wished me luck before my games. So every time I play, I think about her.”
He carries her in his heart every time he steps onto the pitch. After each game, he thanks her for his health and for his goals.
He hopes to be thanking her a lot on Thursday. De Los Santos is coming off back-to-back games with a hat trick.
“I believe that you can expect another three goals,” De Los Santos said. “Nothing is impossible. I am working very hard, and I will be ready when we get to state.”
The whole team appears very amped up for the opportunity. Valley View has not been to state since before any of the current players made the varsity roster. The Tigers last appearance at the state tournament was in 2014.
“I feel like we had to get some experience as a team in order to get back to the state tournament,” Magallan said. “We were so young, but now, we have that experience. We have been there before, so we know how to prepare for it. We know how hard we have to work. This team, right now, is ready to bring home the state title.
“Before, we were a very individual team. Now, we are a team united. We work together. Everybody touches the ball, and everybody has a chance to help with a goal, or contribute in the way that suits them best.”
“We are very excited,” Chavez said. “We can’t wait to get onto the field and play this game. We want to be able to stay in Georgetown and put our school’s name in the history books.”
No matter what happens this weekend, the Tigers’ outlook is bright. Especially because they will have De Los Santos returning for his senior year.
“We have huge expectations for Mario’s senior year,” Magallan said. “Now, as a junior, he is chasing the record for goals in a year. He is a few goals away from breaking the national record. I don’t know who has it, but I believe it is a player from California. Imagine if he is doing this right now, as a junior, what could he possibly do in his senior year.”
That time will come soon enough. For right now, the focus of the team is undeniable.
“We are very united,” Chavez said. “When we go on the bus, we are all singing, having fun together. When we are in the hotel, it’s like nothing else exists. We leave our phones behind, and we are just with each other. We are a united family, and we are working well together. I believe that is a big reason why we are in the position we are in now.”