Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
All South Medford soccer standout Uriel Cordoba wanted was an opportunity.
Once he got it, the Panthers junior didn't let it go without taking full advantage.
Cordoba spent three days in California last week in hopes of laying the foundation for a future in soccer and returned from his road trip with a smile as broad as his on-field talents.
In a tryout with the San Jose Earthquakes U.S Developmental Academy, Cordoba made enough of an impression that he earned an invitation to join the Major League Soccer team's academy as soon as possible.
"It's crazy and quite a big opportunity for me," Cordoba said Monday. "I'm just so thankful to be able to play with them."
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound midfielder was a first-team all-Southern Oregon Hybrid performer this past season for the Panthers, displaying unique foot skills and creativity on the pitch. He tallied 10 goals and 10 assists.
"For him, this could really be an amazing opportunity," said Dave Kaufman, Cordoba's head coach at South Medford and for his Medford United Football Club squad. "The challenge for anybody at this age is the thought of moving away from home. There are some details to still be sorted out, but it really is a great opportunity for him."
Kaufman and fellow MUFC coach Matt Soper were instrumental in getting Cordoba as much exposure as possible, in conjunction with a relationship already built with Kaufman's former Sonoma State teammate Ben Ziemer, who is president of NorCal Premier Soccer and a staff coach with the U.S. national youth program.
"My coaches have a lot of connections and really look out for their players and they've been working on getting me this tryout for a while," said the 16-year-old Cordoba. "I've been wanting to do that for a long time and really was looking forward to it because I kinda looked at it as a huge opportunity."
Cordoba's first training session on Tuesday after driving down from Medford was with the Earthquake academy's U16 team. He trained with the U18 squad the following two days, getting a chance to show his ability Thursday during scrimmages.
"All the players were great and generous and that made me feel like I was more with my own team," he said. "It was a nice training environment. (Kaufman and Soper's) training styles are very similar to what they do so I think that's one of the things that helped me fit in. I wasn't really afraid or nervous. I just went there and did my thing."
That "thing" led to him leaving California with an invitation to join the Earthquakes, presumably for the U18 squad but, given his age, Cordoba could also play with the U16 team, which currently is at midseason.
"It happened really pretty quick last week," said Kaufman. "Thursday night after training they basically said, 'Wow, we want you to move down now. You're very, very special.' But they also recognize there are some logistics issues with him here in Medford and maybe wanting to play his high school senior season here."
None of the reports that came back to Kaufman, who was unable to make the latest trip to San Jose, Calif., came as a surprise when Soper and company filled him.
"The biggest thing that he has is, from a one-on-one situation, there are very few people in this world let alone this town that can massage the ball the way he does," said Kaufman.
"The reality is, though, he's so much more than a soccer player," added the coach. "The kid is a top student who's taking AP classes, the whole nine yards, and he's just a great kid. He's earned every bit of this. All that we have done as coaches is pulled in a few favor calls, that's all. But he's taken every ounce of advantage of them."
Despite his talents, even Cordoba was caught off guard by his invitation to sign with the academy.
"I've seen players that I played with or against in leagues in Portland who made academies and wondered if I was good enough to play where they played," he admitted, "so it was a shocker, but a good shocker, when they said I made it. In that moment I was real proud of myself."
Making this situation that much more heart-warming is Cordoba's back story. His mother passed away two years ago and, although from a strong family with loving siblings, nothing has come easy along the way. Kaufman said the main reason he started the Medford United Football Club in 2009 was when he came across Cordoba while volunteering for an after-school program at Kids Unlimited.
"Here was this kid who was a magician in fifth grade and I'm thinking he must have an amazing coach," said Kaufman. "So when I asked him what team he played for, and he almost got teary eyed and said he so badly wanted to play for a team but he'd never had a chance to before. He just lived at the end of a bumpy dirt-patch road but would spend hours working with the ball. He was kind of a light bulb for me because I was surprised nobody had discovered this kid."
Financial issues expect to be the biggest challenge for Cordoba in continuing his pursuits by moving to California. He'd live with a host family, similar to fellow South Medford product Mitch North when he moved away prior to his senior season to be part of the Portland Timbers Academy. But there will be other expenses.
That's why Cordoba is still weighing his options. To help make it easier on him for now, he's been told by academy officials that he could participate with the team during upcoming showcases in Washington in March and at the end of the season in Florida.
"For right now, I'm still debating whether I want to move soon or not," said Cordoba. "One of the biggest points for me is to get into the showcases, so that's exciting for me, but I'm still undecided about it all and need to talk with my family and my school about what's the best thing for me to do."
To assist the transition, Kaufman said he's working on setting up a bank account for donations to help Cordoba. For more details, contact him by email at email@example.com.
"There are a number of people in the community who have helped the kid out and I know how much he's appreciated every bit of it," said Kaufman. "We want to try and create a fund that people could donate to help with expenses and continue to support him."
LOSING TO YOUR cross-town rival is bad enough, but when it potentially affects your state playoff hopes, it's twice as disheartening.
Shortly after falling to South Medford for the second time this season on Friday, North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn couldn't help but look ahead to a must-win game tonight at Roseburg.
Since the state playoffs went to a power ranking system, teams that finish with the eight highest Rating Percentage Index (RPI) figures are guaranteed home-court advantage until the state tournament quarterfinals.
The power rankings freeze at 10 p.m. Thursday, and North Medford (15-7, 7-4 SOH) finds itself with a precarious hold on the No. 8 spot ahead of Tigard and Central Catholic.
Roseburg is No. 35, and it defeated North in Roseburg on Jan. 21.
The Tornado enters the regular season finale with an RPI total of 612.105. Tigard is just back in the RPI (611.670) and wraps up its regular season at No. 38 Century, while Central Catholic (609.714) is within striking distance and ends at home against No. 30 David Douglas.
"We all know something like 90 percent of the home teams go to the (state tournament)," said Plankenhorn, "so if you're not in that top eight (of the power rankings) you put yourself in a hole. Hopefully we can regroup and go get Roseburg and figure out a way to finish in the top eight somehow. If not, we're gonna have to find out how to be a road team and be a warrior about going and getting something done."
The top seven boys basketball teams in the Class 6A power rankings appear to be set, although the order could change before Thursday. In order, the list entering tonight is West Linn, Clackamas, South Salem, Jesuit, South Medford, Sheldon and Sunset.
Power rankings are based on a team's weighted winning percentage, with special attention given to road wins, and their opponents' winning percentage, commonly referred to as strength of schedule.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry