If Jesus Meraz Rodriguez didn’t end his prep career as Pasco High School’s all-time leading goal scorer, it had to be pretty close.
Pasco coach Matt Potter said the Bulldogs are still in the process of compiling a comprehensive school record book, but that doesn’t take away form the 86 career goals for the one they call “Chuche.”
For chipping in 23 more this year — and notching a career-high nine assists — while leading the Bulldogs to their first state championship game since 2009, Meraz Rodriguez is the Tri-City Herald’s All-Area Boys Soccer Player of the Year for the second consecutive season.
“It’s safe to say if he’s not the top scorer, he’s one of the top scorers Pasco has ever had,” said Potter, the All-Area Coach of the Year. “His drive, his fire that he brings to the game ... he has this drive to always score, and a drive to compete and to help his team win. One of the ways that he can help his team is by scoring goals, and he can do it in a bunch of different ways.”
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Though his high school career ended with a 2-1 loss to Todd Beamer in the state championship game, Meraz Rodriguez and the Bulldogs reached heights this season they had only come dangerously close to in recent history.
In 2015 and ’16, Pasco lost to Central Valley in the state quarterfinals, both times by a score 1-0. This year, the Bulldogs (18-5) smacked defending state champion Wenatchee 5-0 in the quarters — Meraz Rodriguez scored twice and had two assists — and finally got their revenge against Central Valley with a 3-2 shootout win in the semifinals.
“I had promised my older brother that I would lead the team back into state,” Meraz Rodriguez said. “I feel like I accomplished my goals and I gained more family with my teammates.”
Meraz Rodriguez will join teammates David Uribe and Joel Valle — both All-Area first team midfielders — at Spokane Community College next season. He said he hopes to continue on to Seattle University after that.
While Meraz Rodriguez is looking forward to playing soccer at the next level, the fiery striker will always have a special place in his heart for Pasco.
“I feel like soccer can take me places, like if God gives me hopefully one shot at going pro, I know I won’t let him down. That’s why I take soccer so seriously.” he said. “I’m passionate for Pasco because I grew up here. I don’t like when people are like ‘Oh, Pasco, where’s that at?’ I wanna bring Pasco up, and have Pasco and the Tri-Cities be well known because of the sport.
“My grandparents are here, my family is here. I’m gonna miss it.”
The pitch was always a family gathering place for Meraz Rodriguez. While he enjoyed taking younger brother Kevin (second team midfielder) under his wing, Meraz Rodriguez said the time he spent playing with his older brother, Emilio — a sophomore for Walla Walla Community College this season — was invaluable.
“I consider my older brother to be one of the best, if not the best player to come out of the Tri-Cities,” he said. “Seeing how he would work people, seeing how easy it was for him, and then getting advice from him, that was super good for me because I looked up to him.
“He knew that anything he told me, I would do it, because I wanted to be exactly like him.”
A mentor for his teammates on and off the field — he’s routinely posted a 3.5 GPA or higher since his sophomore year — Meraz Rodriguez’s impact will be felt throughout Pasco’s program for generations to come, Potter said.
“What a good example of what hard work does for a guy,” Potter said. “He’s unbelievable, and he’s always down at the stadium if he’s not working. ... For guys to see that is very, very important, because it didn’t happen by accident. He has some natural gifts, but he was able to use those gifts because of his practice, his hard work and his dedication, and really going about it in a professional fashion.
“I think he’s a tremendous example for our young guys. For all of us, really.”
PASCO, KENNEWICK NAB MOST FIRST TEAM SPOTS
Meraz Rodriguez, Uribe and Valle are joined on the first team by sophomore midfielder Edwin Aquino and senior defender Sergio Avalos, giving the Bulldogs the most spots on the top squad.
Kennewick, which went 13-6 under first-year coach Matt Kessie, has four players on the first team, all juniors: goalkeeper Xander Flannery, forward Eddie Castillo, midfielder Emir Velic and defender Jason Cortes.
Wahluke made it to state for the first time since 2011, and lost to Overlake 1-0 in the title game. Senior forward Emmanuel Hidalgo, who scored 24 goals and had five assists, made the first team, with junior midfielder Tony Espindola (five goals and six assists in 14 games) making the second team and senior goalkeeper Ulysses Gonzalez (seven shutouts, 80 saves in 18 games) getting an honorable mention nod.
2017 TRI-CITY HERALD ALL-AREA BOYS SOCCER TEAM
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jesus Meraz Rodriguez, sr., F, Pasco
COACH OF THE YEAR: Matt Potter, Pasco
FIRST TEAM: GK—Xander Flannery, jr., Kennewick. F—Jesus Meraz Rodriguez, sr., Pasco; Isaiah Arechiga, sr., Kamiakin; Emmanuel Hidalgo, sr., Wahluke; Eddie Castillo, jr., Kennewick. M—David Uribe, sr., Pasco; Edwin Aquino, so., Pasco; Michael Rojas, jr., Royal; Joel Valle, sr., Pasco; Emir Velic, jr., Kennewick. D—Sergio Avalos, sr., Pasco; Jason Cortes, jr., Kennewick; Andrew Scrimsher, sr., Kamiakin.
SECOND TEAM: GK—Jake Vooderpoorte, jr., Richland. F—Juan Cruz, jr., Kennewick; Moamel Abddali, sr., Hanford; Allen Escalante, jr., College Place. M—David Ramirez, sr., Southridge; Kevin Meraz Rodriguez, jr., Pasco; Jeremeiah Nguyen, jr., Hanford; Kaleb Rainsberry, sr., Kamiakin; Edgar Rodriguez, sr., Kennewick; Tony Espindola, jr., Wahluke. D—Fernando Ortiz, jr., Walla Walla; Alex Hernandez, sr., Southridge; Ivan Ceja, jr., Pasco; Abel Dominguez, sr., Royal; Luis Ramos, sr., Connell.
HONORABLE MENTION: GK—Ulysses Gonzalez, sr., Wahluke; Cole Varker, so., Southridge; Jorge Munguia, so., Kamiakin; CJ Quintero, jr., Royal. F—Ross Keiffer, so., Hanford; Jason Pietrok, jr., Richland; Luis Perez, sr., Walla Walla; Luis Ortega, sr., Pasco; Alex Contreras, sr., Royal. M—Drew Fulton, so., Richland; Nito Lucatero, sr., Chiawana; Uriel Mendoza, sr., Prosser; Alex Benitez, jr., Grandview; Adrian Mendiola, sr., Connell. D—Jairo Villasenor, jr., Kennewick; Reilly Cannon, sr., Hanford; Jared Hancock, so., Richland; Tristan Schultz, jr., Pasco; Spencer Fall, sr., Kamiakin; Jaime Laurel, sr., Grandview; Alonso Perez, sr., Wahluke.