As of Wednesday, October 19, 2016
INDEPENDENCE — It was 2014 when Central’s boys soccer team fell to Hood River Valley 2-0 in the first round of the state playoffs and Jose Herrera, a sophomore at the time, felt empty. It wasn’t because they lost.
“I felt I could have done more that match,” Herrera said.
Now in his senior season, he is determined not to let that feeling haunt him again.
“I tell (my team) whatever happens, happens, don’t worry about it,” Herrera said. “As long as we play 100 percent, it’s OK.”
Herrera, along with fellow senior Tony Rincon, help lead an impressive attack for the Panthers. The duo has helped Central score 35 goals — second most in the Mid-Willamette Conference — even as Herrera has played a new position.
Prior to this season, Herrera had always played midfield. This fall, coach Joe Orozco had an idea.
“Coach wanted to put me up top (as a forward) because of my height,” Herrera said.
The senior agreed to give it a go.
Herrera scored once against Crescent Valley on Oct. 10 and has helped lead a dangerous attack.
“Jose is a dependable player and versatile,” Orozco said. “No matter where he is playing, he will make plays happen. He is a great striker and has the speed.”
While others, like Rincon, have scored more, those goals wouldn’t be possible without Herrera.
“He helps us a lot in the air, winning balls up there,” Rincon said. “He’s a team player who wants everyone to be a part of the play the team creates. We can dominate the offensive side when he’s on the field. He gives us that extra fire power we need.”
Herrera’s success comes as little surprise. Soccer has come to define the Herrera family. His father got him hooked on the game. His older brother, Gregorio, played for the Panthers, and it’s a Herrera tradition to discuss matches.
“We always talk after a game about what (my dad) sees and what we can do better,” Herrera said. “Then I come back the next day and share with my team.”
His willingness to take criticisms and his desire to help make him an integral part of the Panthers’ success.
“He is the heart of the team and a good leader,” Orozco said. “He’s a great team player, communicates well and is well-respected.”
Part of being a leader was helping Central’s communication evolve.
Last season, when a player made a mistake, he was met with frustration from teammates.
Herrera wanted to change that.
“Instead of just telling them what they did was wrong, we try and help them out, tell them it will work better next time and keep encouraging to keep playing at a high level,” Herrera said.
Central entered the week with a 3-0-1 mark in league play, good for second place behind Woodburn and ahead of Corvallis.
The Panthers end the regular season at Corvallis on Friday before hosting Woodburn on Tuesday at 6 p.m. with major postseason implications. The top two teams in the Mid-Willamette Conference advance automatically to the first round of the state playoffs, while the third through sixth seeds advance to a play-in game.
With two of the toughest challenges the Panthers have faced, Herrera is ready to give it his all in hopes of a deep playoff run.
“It pumps everyone up,” Herrera said. “We’ve been building up this season. It boosts morale to know we can take league if we can beat them. It gives us extra motivation.”