Try the title-winning veteran willing to pass down his experiences to a new batch of talent.
The Rio Mesa High boys’ soccer team’s last on-field link to its championship season is a midfielder-turned-winger-turned-striker nicknamed “Tiger.”
In his new role up front, senior Alex Briceno has managed score nine goals and set up seven others in just 13 games.
But Briceno’s biggest contribution is as a leader for the new-look Spartans (6-4-3), who start a promising mix that includes four sophomores and two freshmen.
“He knows what it’s like to be there and he has a willingness to share it with his teammates,” said Rio Mesa coach Brandon Fuchs.
Which is a positive sign for the development of sophomore midfielder Emiliano Amaro, sophomore defender Javier Alfaro, sophomore defender Luis Navarette, freshmen goalie Leandro Marquez and freshman midfielder Mauricio Mendez.
“He just makes us want it more,” said sophomore defender Eddie Macarena, who was Rio Mesa’s defensive Most Valuable Player a year ago as a freshman. “He did it, so we know we can do it.”
As a four-year varsity player, Briceno has seen it all, from a variety of perspectives.
As a 15-year-old sophomore, Briceno was a clawing defensive midfielder who was entrusted with the important job of marking Channel Islands’ creative force Jesus Landeros.
“As a sophomore, playing in big games and not buckling,” said Fuchs of Briceno, “he stepped up as a man.”
Landeros did score in Rio Mesa’s landmark 2-1 win, but only on a late penalty kick, when Brisceno wasn’t legally allowed near him.
“He had a tough job,” said Macarena, who was an eighth-grader sitting in the stands that night at Pacifica High. “I have so much respect for the way he played.”
As a junior, he moved out onto the wing to support the attacks of senior forwards Michael Hernandez and Dustin Figueroa.
But with only two returning starters and none in attack, Fuchs asked his four-year varsity player to take on yet another role — goal scorer.
“We needed someone to score,” Fuchs said. “It’s a big role for him. He’s had to change his way of thinking.”
So Fuchs wasn’t going to move his senior without asking first.
“I can make something happen,” was the answer.
Briceno started the season with two-goal games against Nordhoff and Santa Clara and has settled into a goal-per-game pace, netting in all three matches of the Buena tournament. He has scored against Marmonte League (Westlake) and Channel League (Buena) opposition.
“He plays like a Tiger,” said Macarana. “He pounces for the ball.”
But perhaps Briceno’s best performance was one of the few matches in which he hasn’t found the net, when he played as a lone striker in a 2-1 win over Fillmore.
“He just riddled their keeper,” Fuchs said.
“Tiger” has been a terror on the break, with so many of his goals coming in transition. But true to his previous experience, he has also shown a willingness to do the dirty work needed of a striker, like holding the ball up for his teammates as a lone striker or tracking back into midfield defensively.
“That’s why they call me Tiger,” said Briceno. “I play hard.”
Rio Mesa opened Pacific View League play last week with a exciting 2-2 tie with Camarillo and, with Oxnard today and Channel Islands, Pacifica and Hueneme to come, the Spartans are looking down the barrel of another ultra-competitive PVL season.
“Everyone says to look forward to next year,” Fuchs said. “But I’m not. I’m looking at today.”
Meanwhile, Briceno is forced on challenging the school record for goals in a season and looking forward to the day he can say he played a part in the Spartans’ next playoff run.
“They’re probably get to do that again next year,” said Briceno. “They’re going to have a pretty good team.”