No one ever questioned Uriel Herrera's soccer talent. The Snohomish High School senior has terrorized opposing defenses with his individual skills since the moment he donned a Panthers jersey as a freshman.
But this year Herrera added maturity to the recipe. A state championship followed. And the senior forward's contributions to that championship made him the Herald's 2014 Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
To see The Herald's Boys Soccer All-Area first and second teams, click here.
“I can't say enough of how proud I am of him,” Snohomish coach Dan Pingrey said. “It's been my pleasure coaching him.”
“It was great,” Herrera said about his season. “But it was really about the whole team and everyone around me helping me. They were amazing.”
Herrera was the focal point of the Snohomish attack, leading the Panthers to a 20-2 record and the Class 4A state title. He not only showed a nose for the net, scoring 18 goals, he also was a capable provider, dishing out 10 assists.
“He meant everything to us,” said Tanner Corrie, Herrera's running mate at the top of Snohomish's formation. “Without him up top ... well, he finds a way to get past defenses, he finds a way to put the ball in the back of the net, and that's just what we needed.”
Herrera didn't just put the ball in the back of the net, he did so with flair. Herrera possesses the type of ball skills that allow him to effortlessly glide his way past opposing defenders, and he supplements those skills with an accurate shot that gives him the ability to score from distance. If a defender marks him too close, he skips on by. If he's given space, he takes the shot.
“He's just a natural with the ball,” Pingrey said. “The ball and his feet are like mitt and ball in baseball for him. He has that feel, he has that natural ability, he's aware of his surroundings, he feels players on his shoulder and his back. The ball just moves with him and it's all one smooth operation, and he's great at it. He does it consistently, and he keeps getting better with it.”
Said Corrie: “It's his touch on the ball, his strength and his perseverance through everything that makes him special. If a defender tackles him, he's right back up. He's got a lot of heart.”
But it took a shift in attitude for Herrera to achieve the heights he reached this season. Herrera already was established as one of the most dangerous offensive players in Wesco coming into the season, having starred for a Snohomish team that reached the state semifinals last season.
Then this season he was voted one of the team's captains, and that helped Herrera mature both as a player and a person.
“He kind of had a bad rep,” Pingrey said. “It was self-caused because there would be fouls or penalties and he would lose his head because he's so intense and wants to have success. We've had a lot of talks with him about it and he's always been great to have with us.
“This year he was voted as a captain, he and I sat down and had a great conversation and he has been a different guy,” Pingrey continued “He's been phenomenal as a person, as a leader. as a captain, and on the pitch he's been brilliant. Every team has schemed to defend him and to shut him down and to mark him up and to try and frustrate him. He's taken a huge amount of abuse (from opposing defenders). He has two medial collateral ligaments (in his knees) that are shot because he's been kicked and tweaked so much, especially the last three weeks. But he's had the right mentality, and I couldn't be more proud of him.”
Herrera was at his best when the Panthers needed him most. Snohomish suffered a rash of injuries during the middle of the season, limiting the offensive options at the Panthers' disposal. Herrera carried Snohomish through that stretch, including scoring four goals in the Panthers' 10-0 victory over Monroe on April 25, a moment Herrera said was one of the standout moments of the season.
Then during Snohomish's run at state he accepted the attention of opposing defenses and absorbed the physical punishment that came with it, thus allowing his teammates to find the goals that led to the Panthers' third state title since 2000.
“I think it revolved around my whole team, they all helped me out,” Herrera said. “If you notice, I didn't score any goals during state, it was all my team. They didn't depend on me and it was great.”
Herrera is planning on continuing his soccer career at the next level. He's hoping to catch on with a college team, though he's also considering taking a year to focus on playing at the academy level.
But regardless, he will always be remembered at Snohomish for the contributions he made during his four years.
“He had a fantastic career,” Pingrey said. “He's our only four-year letterman among the seniors, that's always a big deal. He came in and made an impact from day one and continued to do so through to the end. I've talked to colleges about him and he's a kid who can play at the next level and ultimately wants to. He's something special and he can make an impact at the next level.”
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