Boys soccer: Woodburn enters fall as team to beat
The 2018 Woodburn boys soccer team is entering this fall season with a target on its back the size of Dale Yuranek Field. After winning back-to-back state championships at the 5A level, the Bulldogs are preparing to play their first season against the 4A Classification, and bring all but four members from last year's title team.
To say that Woodburn is a heavy favorite heading into this season is a massive understatement, and head coach Leroy Sanchez knows that every team they face this season will be trying their best to unseat the new team on the block.
"With that target on our back, the state championship isn't a guarantee, and I'm not going to sit here and say that it is a guarantee," Sanchez said. "It's going to take hard work. It's going to take motivation. It's going to take us coming at this season with a different outlook."
Looking back at the same time last year, the Bulldogs were in a much different situation. Woodburn had lost nearly every significant player from the 2016 championship season, in addition to 5A Coach of the Year Stan Baker.
With Sanchez at the helm leading a class of junior players, Woodburn was hardly a sure bet to get back to the finals. While the Bulldogs went on to finish 11-2-2 in the regular season, the team struggled to maintain a consistently high level of play and finished third in the Mid-Willamette Conference.
Seeded ninth in the state tournament, Woodburn rode its championship run on a razor's edge, winning two of its games via penalty kick shootouts and needing last-minute goals in the semifinal and championship game to avoid losses.
"Any slip-up anywhere else last year would have cost us the state championship, which is why the details matter even more this year," said Sanchez, who wants to use those games as motivation for the coming season. "Could we go at it this time without having to go to shootouts? Can we be decisive enough on the field and not have to go that route? There's always something to improve, which I think will help these kids stay motivated."
Despite the back-to-back championships, Sanchez said there is no complacency in the team, no expectation that Woodburn will have an easy trip to the title game once again.
Part of that is fueled by the team's grueling tryouts. With 17 players returning from last season's team, everyone is fighting to maintain their position on the varsity roster as the next class of players is eager to prove to the coaching staff that they belong on this year's Woodburn team.
"There are hard decisions to make," Sanchez said. "Some of these guys, particularly the seniors that might not be making it, they're varsity starters on any other team in the state."
The Bulldogs' core is comprised of a strong senior class that includes All-State honorees Jesus Rodriguez, Salvador Perez and Trevor Karsseboom. Woodburn also brings back all-conference players Pedro Hernandez, Edwin Silva and Jairo Aguirre, along with a host of talent up and down the roster that did not receive post-season award consideration last year.
"They look better than they did last year," Sanchez said. "When it comes from Woodburn and the competitiveness coming out of this community, the boys have to be at an extra level to be seen out here and playing at their top level. They're just excited and ready to start."
Sanchez said the returning players are motivated by a continued desire to win, that the team hasn't grown tired of the prolonged success. Instead, the Bulldogs want to keep racking up victories, honors and titles, leaving little doubt that Woodburn is the premier soccer program in the state, regardless of which classification the team plays in.
"I think the boys have an innate motivation to have a fire inside," Sanchez said. "When you win trophies and you're winning, it's addictive, and I think these kids are addicted to wanting to win."
But Woodburn has a difficult road ahead of it.
The Bulldogs are dropping into what is arguably the most difficult 4A conference in the state — the Oregon West, which has fielded the past six 4A champions.
In fact, much like last year's 5A title game between Mid-Willamette rivals Woodburn and Corvallis, three of the past four 4A state championship games were decided between two teams from the Oregon West.
"There's no doubt they could compete at [the 5A] level," Sanchez said. "Any of those teams could surprise us at any time. They'll be giving us a run for our money, it's just are we going to be better prepared and better equipped?"
Woodburn will open its season with a home jamboree on Thursday against North Marion and Molalla, both teams that have won state titles in the past decade, along with Seaside. The Bulldogs then open their season at North Marion on Aug. 30, followed by a trip to Sweet Home on Sept. 4 before hosting 6A Hillsboro on Sept. 6 for the team's home-opener.
"The energy is great," Sanchez said. "We're excited and bringing in the seriousness, but with the little bit of fun we like to have. I think these boys are excited for this season. I think they really see that there's talent out here and we have a good chance of taking state this year."