Juan Llamas had a feeling this year’s soccer season would be one for the record books.
“You could sense it — they play for each other. It’s beautiful soccer,” the McKay High School boys coach said.
He believed so much in the team that he told his wife earlier in the season not to plan anything for their daughter’s birthday on Nov. 12. He intended to be at the state championship.
It was a prudent decision. The varsity boys team closed out an undefeated 17-0 season Saturday with a 2-1 victory over West Albany, taking the first state championship title in the program’s history.
For junior Miguel Garcia, 17, one of the team captains and a striker, the win was the culmination of a season of hard work.
The McKay boys scored a total of 55 goals during the season and allowed only four against them.
“We were all really dedicated,” he said.
Players had to be at McKay at 7:30 a.m. Saturday to take the bus to Hillsboro Stadium, where the 5A championships were held. Garcia doesn’t eat right before games, but had a bagel with cream cheese and a mango Naked juice to get him ready before departing.
“The night before I just couldn’t sleep,” he said.
The school parking lot had an elaborate send-off, with Salem police and firefighters joining a crowd wishing the boys well.
The game itself was suspenseful, with McKay and West Albany tied 1-1 at halftime. In the locker room, Garcia said the atmosphere was focused, with the boys clear on their mission: “We’re going to go out and find that second goal.”
The winning goal came midway through the second half, with the play started by junior striker Abdoulie Jallow.
Garcia recounted the action: he received a cross pass near the goal and looked for a chance to head the ball in, but it didn’t materialize.
“I didn’t have much of an angle to goal,” he said. Instead, he headed the ball back to Jallow, who scored.
That made for a tense final quarter of the game as the boys worked to prevent West Albany from tying up the score. When time expired, Garcia was on the bench. He and his teammates ran onto the field.
“We were all just together hugging each other,” he said.
After posing with their trophy and medals, the team went to Buffalo Wild Wings to celebrate.
At school, Garcia said teachers and classmates have been congratulating him and his teammates in class. Even his parents’ coworkers have mentioned the victory.
“They’re super proud,” he said of his parents.
The championship is the first state title for McKay since 1986, when the girls tennis and boys track teams won championships.
Garcia has played soccer since he was 5, including playing at Scott Elementary and Waldo Middle School. He moved up to the varsity team at McKay last year and said he’s looking forward to his final season. He’d like to play soccer in college.
Llamas, who’s in his fifth year coaching at McKay, said he looks forward to a strong team next season. Three of the 20 players on this year’s roster are seniors, including both goalies, so most players will return next year.
Llamas said he’s proud of the team’s record. Of the four goals scored against them all season, two were on penalties.
“We had the best defense in the whole state of Oregon,” he said.
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.