A year ago, former Pasco High School star Emilio Meraz-Rodriguez was named the Tri-City Herald’s All-Area Player of the Year, notching 12 goals for the Bulldogs and 13 assists to lead Pasco to the state tournament for the first time since 2009. Meanwhile, his then-sophomore brother Jesus broke the Mid-Columbia Conference scoring record with 24 goals, but had to settle for just the first-team nod.
With Emilio playing for Walla Walla Community College this season, Jesus, the 2016 All-Area player of the year, continued to shine for the Bulldogs, again leading Pasco to the quarterfinal round of state on the strength of another 20-goal season, six of which he scored in the playoffs.
Kevin Meraz-Rodriguez, the sophomore brother of Jesus and Emilio, rounds out the family trio of Bulldog soccer players — all three started on the 2015 team — but Pasco coach Matt Potter said the family-like connection extends far beyond those three players on his team.
“These guys have grown up playing together, so it’s like one big family,” Potter said.
Like most of the Bulldogs players, Jesus Meraz-Rodriguez and senior forward Hector Magana have played soccer together since their early elementary years. Even in those days, the talent and quickness Meraz-Rodriguez and Magana boasted were evident, and Emilio — always the center-midfielder — would send the duo up front to lead the goal-scoring attack.
“Hector and I have been playing together since we were really little, and because of that there’s a connection between us,” Jesus said.
That connection once again produced a high-octane offense for Pasco this season, with the Bulldogs scoring a league-leading 40 goals, eight more than their closest competitor Chiawana.
“For (Jesus) and Hector, their ability to work together up front, we felt like at any minute we would be able to score,” Potter said. “They put pressure on teams.”
For the second consecutive year, Pasco lost to Central Valley in the second round of the Class 4A state tournament by a score of 1-0. Failing to reach the semifinals again was disappointing for Meraz-Rodriguez, but he hopes in his final year at Pasco to make another run through the state tournament.
“I’ve got one more shot with Kevin, and hopefully we can get another shot at state next year,” Jesus said.
Since the Bulldogs went 13-1 in conference this year — 16-3 overall — to win another MCC title, it’s no surprise Meraz-Rodriguez is joined by four of his teammates on the All-Area first team, including Magana, who had eight goals and nine assists.
Connell’s Hugo Garcia, the All-Area coach of the year, led his Eagles to a near-perfect, 20-1 campaign. The lone blemish came in the Class 1A state title game; a 3-2 defeat decided in penalty kicks against Seattle Academy. Senior Josue Vargas had 11 clean sheets in the net for the Eagles this season and is the All-Area first-team goalkeeper.
All-Area Boys Soccer Selections
Player of the Year: Jesus Meraz-Rodriguez, Jr. F, Pasco. Coach: Hugo Garcia, Connell.
Goalkeeper: Josue Vargas, Sr., Connell.
Defenders: Jose Huizar, Sr., Chiawana; Oswal Lopez, Sr., Pasco; Alex Kirk, Sr., Pasco; Reese Jones, Jr., Othello.
Midfielders: Iovani Rodriguez, Sr., Hanford; Edwin Aquino, Fr., Pasco; Jose Rodriguez, Sr., Chiawana; Jorge Rincon, Sr., Wahluke; Lenin Guzman, Sr., Connell.
Forwards: Jesus Meraz-Rodriguez, Jr., Pasco; Hector Magana, Sr., Pasco; Shambel West, Sr., Chiawana.
Goalkeeper: Jorge Llerenas, Sr., Chiawana.
Defenders: Jose Garcia, Sr., Wahluke; Sergio Avalos, Jr., Pasco; Israel Aguilar, Sr., Grandview; Jose Lucatero, Jr., Chiawana.
Midfielders: Isaac Ponce, So., Chiawana; Michael Rojas, So., Royal; Jonny Mata, Sr., Grandview; David Uribe, Jr., Pasco; Geraldo Reyes, Sr., Connell.
Forwards: Alexis Ayuso, Jr., Connell; Emmanuel Hidalgo, Sr., Wahluke; Will Eldred, Sr., Hanford.
Goalkeeper: Marco Covarrubias, Sr., Kamiakin.
Defender: Kanyen Nelson, Sr., Hanford.
Midfielders: Christian Egli, Sr., Kamiakin; Armando Ponce, Sr., Kennewick; David Ramirez, Jr., Southridge; Luis Jesus Gonzalez, Sr., Pasco.
Forward: Jose Ponce, Sr., Royal.