BY HENRY MILLER
Progreso soccer coach Margarito Jimenez Jr. has led the Red Ants to their third straight Class 4A Final Four.
Of course, he’s quick to give credit to his assistants, the board, the school, and especially his kids, but in the end, all of those people point back to him.
Still, Jimenez absolutely refuses to take credit for the advanced footwork of the high-scoring Red Ants.
“They come to tryouts handling the ball like that,” he said. “They’re that good and that advanced. My job is to just take that talent and guide them to play the best that they can, at every position.”
Under his directing, Progreso is set to play in the state semifinals at 6:30 p.m. today against top-seeded Palestine (34-0).
Throughout the regional tournament last weekend at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium, the Red Ants’ ball control was a step better than the opposition. Both teams Progreso faced sat back and put extra defenders in the box. On several occasions, a Red Ants player outmaneuvered two or three opponents to emerge with the ball in open territory.
“We’re not scared to go after the ball,” midfielder Hugo Guajardo said. “We know that we are a good team, and other teams may be bigger, but we know how to control the ball, and coach tells us to be aggressive, and we are.”
Guajardo spends a lot of time controlling the ball on both sides of the field, and he came up big in the Class 4A Region IV final against Liberty Hill. He sent the ball into the box, finding Matthew Perez for the game’s only goal. Perez scored in both regional matches.
Jimenez said his team makes some passes that look like they are fooling around — like no-look, backward passes to a forward streaking up the sideline. But, he said, they’re not. Instead, that level of play comes from a lot of practice — even in the offseason.
“So many of these kids have been playing since they were young enough to just kick a ball. It’s become an extension of their feet,” he said. “That’s from basically having a ball on the end of their feet literally all the time.”
Today’s game against Palestine — a team the Red Ants lost to 1-0 in penalty kicks in the state championship match two years ago — brings the biggest challenge Progreso has faced all season. Two Palestine players have combined for 104 goals.
But the Red Ants’ ability to control the ball, and a defense that Jimenez repeatedly says is the best in the state, has the team believing that a third straight trip to Georgetown will be the one that ends with a title.
“We’ve been there before, and there are good teams,” Guajardo said. “But we can beat them. We can win it this year.”