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  • SOCCER

    Cordoba reaching new heights

    Medford teenager takes his game to a new level as player in San Jose Earthquakes Academy
  • Uriel Cordoba's time in the San Jose Earthquakes U.S. Development Academy may have been short but it certainly was impactful, for the Medford teenager as well as the 16-and-under soccer team he helped take to new heights.
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    • URIEL CORDOBA
      WHO: A 5-foot-10, 170-pound forward on the San Jose Earthquakes U.S. Development Academy U16 soccer team.
      • WHAT: Cordoba joined the academy team in the latter stages of its season and qui...
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      URIEL CORDOBA
      WHO: A 5-foot-10, 170-pound forward on the San Jose Earthquakes U.S. Development Academy U16 soccer team.

      • WHAT: Cordoba joined the academy team in the latter stages of its season and quickly became an integral player, starting at forward and scoring two goals with two assists in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs in Indiana. The U16 Earthquakes later lost 1-0 to Real Salt Lake of Arizona in the quarterfinals, marking the best finish in the U16 program's history.
      • QUOTE: "It's so much more competitive and everyone wants it so much that you have to give it 150 percent or even more to just be at the level that they're at. It all just really inspired me to get better."
  • Uriel Cordoba's time in the San Jose Earthquakes U.S. Development Academy may have been short but it certainly was impactful, for the Medford teenager as well as the 16-and-under soccer team he helped take to new heights.
    Cordoba spent the past 31/2 months splitting time between his hometown and Santa Cruz, Calif., and the experience left him even more passionate about what was already an obsession for the 5-foot-10, 170-pound standout.
    "It was completely different than anything I've ever experienced," Cordoba said prior to his training Thursday night with players on the South Medford High boys soccer team. "Everything is so much more serious and everyone is so into it. It's so much more competitive and everyone wants it so much that you have to give it 150 percent or even more to just be at the level that they're at. It all just really inspired me to get better."
    Already pretty darn good by anyone's standards as a versatile performer for the Panthers since starting on the varsity squad as a freshman, Cordoba said his experience with the Earthquakes Academy showed him another side of soccer.
    "The competitiveness truly made me a better soccer player," said Cordoba, who was a first-team all-Southern Oregon Hybrid selection as a junior last fall after netting 10 goals with 10 assists for the Panthers. "There's a lot of things that you don't see in high school soccer, like the positioning of your body and where you're at and where the other team is at that makes a difference. There are a lot of great players here that play high school soccer, but there's just little significant things that will take you from being a good soccer player to a great soccer player. Those are the little things they teach you."
    Whether he knew many of those tricks already or learned them through his advanced training, the results were proof positive that Cordoba earned his spot with the elite squad.
    Despite joining the team late in the season, he was an instant hit and really came alive when it mattered most, scoring two goals with two assists in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs in Indiana. His team beat Orlando City SC 3-1 and tied FC Dallas 2-2 before scoring a 2-0 win over Shattuck-Saint Mary's Soccer Academy that advanced the U16 Earthquakes into the Elite Eight.
    "That was a pretty good week," he said in typical humble fashion.
    The U16 Earthquakes later lost 1-0 to Real Salt Lake of Arizona in the quarterfinals on July 8, marking the best finish in the U16 program's history.
    The highlight of Cordoba's experience with the Earthquakes came during that June 24-27 time frame and encapsulated his spring fling with teammates he'd quickly grown to love. In the team's playoff opener against Orlando City SC, Cordoba scored the game's first goal on a diving header that set off an emotional celebration by his peers. That scoring effort also was featured in a video highlighting the relationship of Cordoba's head coach Stephen Wondolowski and his U.S. Men's National Team brother, Chris.
    "Being the new guy it felt really good to know that you're making an impact for your team and for your club and that everyone is embracing you as if you were one of them since the beginning," he said. "That was really, really special to me."
    In truth, Cordoba said he felt an almost immediate connection with his Earthquake brethren.
    "Right away after I got used to the team, everything was just quick and all the kids just really took me in really well, which I think helped so much," he said. "The chemistry was there after two weeks of practicing and stuff and that was because they took me in so well. Otherwise it would've been harder to get used to it down there."
    As it was, Cordoba already had enough on his plate being away from everyone he knew and loved in the final quarter of his junior year at South Medford.
    "There were days where it was just really hard to keep my head together," admitted Cordoba, who turned 17 on June 19, "but calling them and FaceTiming them, that helped me out a little and made it easier."
    Cordoba also had to contend with keeping his schoolwork up as he commuted back and forth from California and Oregon on three occasions. He initially got his course expectations for the final quarter and then returned for a two-week span at South Medford before coming back again for finals week.
    "Playing and trying to finish my junior year was pretty hard, but doable," said Cordoba. "It turned out great."
    So great, in fact, that Cordoba earned a 4.0 grade-point average for his final quarter.
    "I have to thank my teachers a lot for that," he said. "They were really helpful. My chemistry teacher (Joshua Smith) would Skype me during class and helped me out on his own time so I could stay up on everything, and my other teachers were just as helpful in making it all work out. I couldn't have asked for any more from them, I really appreciated all of it."
    Cordoba had similar words of appreciation for his host family in Santa Cruz as well as the training he got in California from coaches like Wondolowski and Marquis White, among others.
    "It was hard, definitely, but you get used to all the running and all the hard trainings and hard talks coaches give you," he said. "It's just all part of the training which makes you better. You get used to that and start to like it and want it more. When they yell at you or tell you that you're doing something wrong, it just makes you want to work harder and motivates you to get better and be better."
    Fortunately for Cordoba, there wasn't much that he did wrong while with the team. He initially filled in at right wing and right fullback before winding up in his more natural forward position, where he was able to take full advantage of his natural playmaking abilities as well as an uncanny knack for sustaining the ball after years of practice on his footwork.
    "For having not really ever playing at that high of a level before," said Cordoba, "my coaches were really, really pleased with all of my performances and everything I did for the team. It's a good feeling that such good coaches are telling you that you're doing a great job and to keep it up, that means a lot."
    What also means a lot will be the next month here in Medford for Cordoba. He's set to return to the Earthquakes Academy and begin training with the U18 team on Aug. 11, with only limited trips back to Southern Oregon over the ensuing year as he immerses himself completely into the program.
    Cordoba hopes to figure out some way to graduate with his South Medford peers next June, and is already lamenting the fact that he will not be playing his senior season with his Panther brothers.
    "It definitely will be tough to miss that but I think this is also an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime so it's better to take advantage of it," he said. "It'll definitely be bittersweet thinking about my senior year with my friends and all my friends on the soccer team, but I think this is all worth it."
    Given Cordoba's early results, that certainly seems to be the case.
    Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry
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