PHARR — The Valley View Tigers have a lot of stars. Junior forward Mario De Los Santos will tell you they have 11.
But the key for Valley View this year was moving away from the idea of 11 individual players and toward the theory of one combined unit.
“When we had (Jose) ‘Torito’ (Soto), or even when Mario was younger, we relied on them heavily,” Valley View coach Damian Magallan said. “Now, we don’t have to do that. We have other guys who can carry the ball, control the ball, score and defend. We are a unit now.”
That philosophy has paid off this year, lifting the Tigers to an undefeated 31-0 season. Valley View is getting ready to face the defending state champion Frisco Wakeland Wolverines at 7:30 tonight at Birkelbach Field in Georgetown in the UIL Class 5A state semifinals.
“We are very excited,” sophomore winger Rogelio Saldivar said. “We are glad to be headed to state. We have worked very hard to get to this point. We believe in ourselves right now. We believe that we can make it to the final, and win it, to bring home the state title.”
The team-first approach has worked thanks to players like Saldivar. He and sophomore teammates Carlos Medina and Joaquin Ramirez grew up playing together in Reynosa, Mexico.
When the weight of the world was on Medina’s shoulders during a penalty shootout against Brownsville Lopez in the regional quarterfinals, Medina and Saldivar got together immediately.
“As soon as we knew it was PKs, I told (Medina) to get some practice shots in with me,” Saldivar said. “We studied the other goalie’s tendencies. I told Carlos, ‘Be confident, stay calm, and if you get the kick, we will win.’”
Medina delivered, and the Tigers’ season was saved.
“I can’t even put into words what I was feeling in that moment,” Saldivar said. “I first ran to congratulate (senior goalie) Elian (Chavez), and then to Carlos. We were all excited and jumping around. It was crazy.”
That bond, forged on the neighborhood fields in Reynosa, has strengthened as the Tigers have played together. The circle grew, and the entire team has become close.
“They are like a second family,” Saldivar said. “They are my brothers, and I love each of them.”
Sophomore midfielder Christopher Flores is another player who has relieved De Los Santos, Valley View’s leading scorer, of some of the sky-high expectations. Recognized for his scarlet locks, Flores is known to his teammates simply as “Rojo.”
When someone asked a few of the players where Christo was, they responded, “in church.” They only know Flores as “Rojo.”
“He’s a tremendous, complete player,” Magallan said. “Whatever position I put him at, whether he’s up top, in the middle or in the back, he is able to do everything we need him to do at each of those positions. Apart from Mario, I would make Christopher Flores the MVP of the team. He has been working very hard.”
De Los Santos said he appreciates Flores’ efforts.
“Christopher is a great player and a great teammate,” De Los Santos said. “He is unlike any other player we have. He is a star. … He plays great balls. He is a very hardworking, he is very strong, and he can run up and down the field. He has great touch with his passes.”
“Christopher looks like he runs with the ball at his feet, not like he is kicking the ball,” Chavez said. “He plays great passes. I think that he is the reason for a lot of our success this year.”
Bonding on and off the field has been key to Valley View’s unbeaten run.
“It’s not even just about soccer,” Saldivar said. “In school, we help each other with classes, and we support each other. Even at home, we look out for each other, because if there are problems at home, that player won’t do as well in his classes. We all need to pass, so we can play together.”
When the team travels for tournaments, one item is must-have for the long nights spent in hotels: a video game console. The soccer video game FIFA is a necessity among the Tigers. The matches get heated, and the team is ultracompetitive — just as they are about the real game.
For the two friends from Reynosa, Saldivar and Medina, every faceoff is a “Clasico.” Saldivar uses Leonardo Messi to lead Barcelona into battle against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid, helmed by Medina.
Just like in the video game, the Tigers are hoping for a classic at state to bring home the title for one of their brothers.
“Elian is a great keeper,” Saldivar said. “It is very sad that this is his last year. But, that just means we have to go out there and play the way we are capable of, so we can bring home that title for Elian.”