Jonatan Cruz is Male Soccer Player of Year
By J. Daniel Pearson
For the News-Gazette
In soccer, a difference maker is a player who scores a goal when the team needs it the most.
But, during the 2013-14 high schoo
Jonatan Cruz is the Osceola News-Gazette player of the year.
l season at Osceola High School, you would have had to go to the other end of the field and look at Jonatan Cruz to find that team’s difference maker.
Cruz, a 6-1, 180-pound senior goaltender, recorded 11 shutouts this season and has earned Osceola News-Gazette Male Soccer Player of the Year honors.
“It is a great honor gaining this recognition, especially because it comes in my final season. We had a lot of fun this year and given the circumstances of playing with a really young team, I met my personal expectations,” Cruz said.
For the regular season, Cruz points to one game as his favorite moment of the year.
“Gateway came in and beat us 1-0 on our home field during our senior night,” Cruz said. “I was really devastated, but we got another opportunity to play them at their place and it was their senior night. We fell behind 1-0 and scored the tying goal in the second half and then we were awarded a penalty kick. I begged Coach (Tom) Bell to let me take it and he did. I was able to convert and we won the game, 2-1. It was a moment I will never forget.”
Despite solid goaltending from Cruz all season, the young Kowboys struggled and finished the season with a 13-9-1 record. but Cruz ended up playing his best in the postseason. Against arch-rival Gateway in the 5A District 9 tournament semifinals, he shut out an extremely talented and fast Panther team for 80 minutes of regulation and 20 minutes of overtime before his team prevailed 1-0 (5-4) on penalty kicks.
The Kowboys looked headed for a loss in that game when they fell behind 3-1 in penalty kicks, but Cruz recorded back-to-back saves. Had either of those penalty shots found the net, Osceola would have lost. The Kowboys scored on their fourth and fifth attempts to knot it at 3 before winning in sixth round.
Two days later, Cruz once again was perfect in both regulation and overtime as the Kowboys won the district title, 1-0, over Davenport Ridge Community High.
Even in defeat, Cruz was unflappable.
Against Ft. Pierce Central in the FHSAA regional quarterfinals, Cruz shut out the Cobras in both regulation and overtime before seeing the Kowboys’ season come to an end on penalty kicks 1-0 (4-2). All told, Cruz did not allow a goal in regulation or overtime in his last 300 minutes of postseason play.
“Jonatan was absolutely incredible in the Ft. Pierce game,” Bell said. “He kept us in the game with two sensational saves, we just could not find the back of the net on offense.”
Cruz believes he had a solid season. “It was a different year because we were so young. We had the four senior starters and the rest of the team was mostly sophomores,” he said. “I really felt it was up to the seniors to step up and assume leadership roles. As a goalie, I think there is extra pressure on you because you are the one that sees the whole field and you are the one that has the responsibility of communicating with your defense and directing traffic.”
As for the future, Bell believes Cruz will have an opportunity to play soccer at the next level. A team captain, Cruz is also outstanding in the classroom – where he carries a 3.5 GPA.
“You’re only as good as your last defender, and Jonatan was exceptional for us. He’s a good defender, a good keeper, but he’s an even better person. He’s a wonderful young man, and he comes from an incredible family,” Bell said. “He most definitely has the ability to play at the next level. (Former Osceola goalkeeper) Joey Nasco is playing in the MLS, and Jeanfred (Santos, a 2012 OHS grad) is playing in the Orlando City program. We train them here.”
Cruz is looking forward to college soccer. He resumed playing club soccer for Osceola United and recently visited Johnson and Wales University where he had an opportunity to work out with the team.
“They told me they had a roster spot for me, but working out with college players really opened by eyes,” Cruz said. “I know I have to get a lot better in practically every aspect of my game to compete at that level. It’s definitely a challenge but it is a challenge I look forward to, whether it is at Johnson and Wales or another university.”