It’s not often when teammates on a high school sports team look to a sophomore to lead the way, both on and off the field. But that’s exactly what San Benito’s soccer team has in precocious forward Hernan Alvarez Funes, whose talent cannot be denied.
The dynamic sophomore recently had another multi-goal game, scoring twice in a 3-1 win over Gilroy High on Jan. 18. Two days later, the Haybalers improved to 4-0 in Pacific Coast League Mission Division play with a 1-0 win over Pajaro Valley.
Against the Mustangs, Funes displayed his assortment of skills and speed. His second tally was a thing of beauty. With Gilroy putting the pressure on as it looked to get the equalizer, Ezekiel Hernandez won a 50-50 ball near his 18-yard box before making a perfect pass to Funes, who got behind the Gilroy team as it was pressing up hoping for a goal.
Funes blew by the one defender that had a chance to prevent a breakaway before dribbling a good 50 yards and then beating the Gilroy goalkeeper just seconds before the final whistle sounded.
“Whenever I get a breakaway, I try to maintain focus and get to the goal,” Funes said. “I try not to get it in my head that I’m all alone, so I just pick a point and right before I shoot I see where the goalie is and take the best opportunity to shoot the ball.”
On Funes’ first goal, he intercepted a Gilroy throw-in just inside midfield and once he got to top speed—which doesn’t take him long to do by the way—no Mustang could come close to catching him. Funes dribbled for 45 yards before slotting a shot for a 2-0 lead in the 31st minute.
Only minutes earlier, Hernandez had put the Balers on top with a nice shot to the lower left corner that came after David Corena Vargas made a strong play to the ball into the penalty area. San Benito started a bit slow but turned things up a notch midway through the first half.
While acknowledging his team took a while to settle down, Balers coach Marco Orozco was satisfied with the team’s play, overall execution and superior possession time.
“The passing was there at times which allowed us to control the game,” he said. “We kept moving the ball and I want them to keep passing with purpose and with precision. And obviously keeping the lines and making it all the way to the goal.”
Both Orozco and Funes said midfielders Hernandez and Gilbert Bolivar have played pivotal roles throughout the season and especially against Gilroy.
“Ezekiel helps us a lot in the midfield because he’s a very hard worker and it pays off for us,” Funes said. “Some of us don’t have as much stamina and he helps us control the ball, gets it back in play and gets it on everyone’s feet. Gilbert is also very energetic and helps more in the attack. He brings things up and creates chances which is a big role to play.”
Orozco said while it’s not championship or bust, the team’s goal since the season started was to win a league title. Funes likes the direction the team is headed, especially when they pass well and stay organized.
“I feel like we’re passing more now and with our team chemistry we’re enjoying each other,” he said. “Some things we need to improve on are definitely our defense and our decision-making because sometimes we force things too much. But overall, we’re doing good and finishing our chances.”
Funes knows how to finish and create scoring chances with the best of them. Outside of his two goals against Gilroy, Funes unleashed three other rocket shots that came close to scoring. One of those shots happened about five yards outside the far left corner of the 18-yard box.
With two defenders around him, Funes gained separation with a quick move and the sliver of daylight was all he needed to unleash a shot that curled just wide of the Gilroy goal. Funes said he has possessed a strong shot from an early age.
“Since I was younger, I’ve been fortunate to have a stronger foot compared to a lot of guys,” he said. “That helps me a lot and especially in tight spaces when you only get one touch and the defense is closing in on you.”
Funes said getting on top of his conditioning has helped him develop into one of the fastest on-the-ball players in the Pacific Coast League. His ability to dribble the ball at breakneck speed will be key for San Benito as the season progresses.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.