Boys soccer: Woodburn's Rodriguez, Perez lead 5A All-State nominations
It's almost poetic — the same two players who connected to score the game-tying goal that propelled the Woodburn boys soccer team to a fifth state championship are the same two who led the Bulldogs when the 5A All-State team was announced in December.
Juniors Jesus Rodriguez and Salvador Perez each were nominated to the All-State First Team, highlighting a Woodburn team that also boasted Second Team honoree Trevor Karsseboom and 5A Coach of the Year Leroy Sanchez.
The awards were the final feather in the cap of the Woodburn Bulldogs, who wrapped their last year in the 5A Classification with a 2-1 overtime victory over the league rival Corvallis Spartans in the state championship game in November.
That win wouldn't have happened if not for the last-minute heroics of Rodriguez and Perez, who teamed up to score the game-tying goal with five minutes left in regulation against the Spartans.
"I had a feeling that something was going to happen," Rodriguez said after the state win. "This season, everybody was saying, 'Don't give up. Don't give up,' because of coach Leroy."
The Bulldogs had trailed for the majority of the championship game against Corvallis after the Spartans went up 1-0 early in the first half. With the final minutes counting down, Hernandez found a seam down the left side of the field, beating one defender and drawing another away from the middle where Perez gathered the pass from Rodriguez and drilled it into the back of the net to tie the game at 1-1 and give Woodburn momentum heading into overtime.
"I didn't score, but I felt like a hero because I came with that assist," Rodriguez said. "I celebrated like I scored, because of something the coach told me: An assist counts more than a goal."
When the two teams went into overtime, it took just 36 seconds for Karsseboom to put the Bulldogs on top for good, scoring the game-winning goal to give Woodburn its fifth title in the past eight seasons.
While Woodburn has long been a soccer powerhouse at the 5A level, this year's championship stands out particularly due to the challenges the team had in getting back to the title game. The Bulldogs lost 11 seniors from the 2016 team that won the state title and saw former head coach Stan Baker replaced with Sanchez, the team's lead assistant for the previous four years.
A former all-state player for the Bulldogs at the turn of the millennium, Sanchez kept Baker's system in place, integrating almost an entirely new starting lineup this season.
Woodburn went on to finish third in the league standings, snapping a streak of eight consecutive conference titles, and was forced to play its first ever postseason game from the play-in round.
As the ninth-seeded team in the playoffs, Woodburn played all four of its playoff games on the road, defeating the two teams that beat it in the regular season — Hood River Valley and Corvallis — on its way to the state title.
Despite losing in the finals, Corvallis sophomore Edgar Monroy ended up winning 5A Player of the Year, a continuation of a stellar year in which the forward was named Mid-Willamette Conference Player of the Year.
Although it's unusual for the losing team in the state final to field the state's top award, it's not unheard of. Hood River Valley's Gio Magana won the first of back-to-back Player of the Year honors when the Eagles lost the 2013 championship game to Summit.
And while Rodriguez admitted after the game that he would have liked to have won the award after scoring 23 goals and nine assists, he's more than content with the championship medal.
"My team comes before me and we're state champs, so if I don't win, it's fine," Rodriguez said. "I have next year."
And with the Bulldogs dropping down to 4A for the 2018 season, there are already plenty of expectations for the team to make it three straight titles. But until then, the Woodburn boys soccer team is still riding the good vibes coming from the most improbable of the program's five titles.
"It was a good story," Rodriguez said. "We finished the story that we wanted to write."