Jose Guevara knew this would happen. He knew O’Connell was too good, its strikers too deadly, its team too talented to let Mission relax. Guevara knew they would create chances, and he knew they would get shots, and he knew that, even as good as he is, he probably couldn’t stop them all.
Guevara also knows that he’s one of the lucky ones. He didn’t always see it, not with his parents’ jobs so often keeping them away from home, not with money so tight that he was afraid to leave the house, lest he slip up and drop a few bucks on a movie or some food.
He knows that he’s lucky because he speaks of parents in the plural, and when he talks about Mom and Dad, he’s not referring to some faraway characters in Mexico or Guatemala. And he knows that because he’s rare, because he has the guidance that those around him lack, he also has the responsibility to take charge and lead others, to pass on the simple life lessons that broken homes rarely teach.
“When you look around the team you realize, wow, a lot of kids on the team don’t have dads or don’t have moms,” Guevara says. “So they need this team to be a family. We all need this team to be a family.”
Guevara is used to being the big brother. With his father always working at a neighborhood deli, and his mother fighting for every available shift at a local taqueria, Jose is often left with the responsibility of caring for his 11-year-old sister Jasmine, and his 6-year-old brother, Johan.
So, when he comes home from soccer practice, he cooks dinner and cleans up after himself and his siblings, finally getting around to homework when his familial responsibilities have been met. “Yeah, I do have a mom and a dad, but at the same time, they can’t be around a lot of the time,” he says. “So for a long time, I’ve really had to be there for my brother and sister.”
It’s a role he fills well. “I’ve never had to worry about him,” says his mother Marielena (through Jasmine, who serves as a translator), although she admits that she initially didn’t want him to attend Mission because she believed the school was too dangerous. “He’s always been so good in school, and he’s always been so good with his brother and sister.”
These are the roles he relishes—those of the player, the brother, or the student who is willing to take charge when no one else will. In group projects at school, teachers say he can be the facilitator or the alpha dog, choosing his role based on the needs of his peers.
On the soccer field, he serves as an extension of his coach, barking out orders and directing his teammates. Sometimes these directives are motivational—“Vamos!” “Come on!” Other times they are tactical—“Push up!” “Move to the right!”
Whatever the message, the delivery is always impassioned and almost always on point. “Every team needs someone to be willing to get on everyone else and make sure they’re doing what they need to do,” says Wilson, the assistant coach. “For us, that’s Jose.”
In the beginning, soccer didn’t serve as the means by which he could create a second family. It wasn’t an escape or a refuge, or even a ticket to a life away from the low-wage jobs and high-risk streets of the Mission. It was just fun. That was when he was eight, when he began playing in a league for neighborhood kids.
He grew, and things changed. “When I was eleven, everybody was playing and was so excited,” he says. “Then at twelve, it was kind of the same thing. At thirteen, some people weren’t playing anymore. And then fourteen and fifteen there were less and less. And it seemed like whenever you asked where somebody was, they were in juvie.”
But not Jose—not as long as his parents were pressing him to do well in school and stay out of trouble. And definitely not as he came to realize that if you got into trouble, you lost soccer. And if you lost soccer, you lost everything.
“I can honestly say that soccer was my motivation,” he says, acknowledging the dangers of the Mission but insisting that he’s never even flirted with the neighborhood’s drug-riddled underbelly. “I really never got tempted by any of that stuff. I wanted to keep playing.”
Jose knows that playing for Mission isn’t a golden ticket. Soccer isn’t everything. But it still counts for a hell of a lot. (His girlfriend, Laura, is the goalkeeper for Mission’s girls team). Jose knows he has other opportunities.
With a 3.4 GPA, a knack for doing well on tests, and an ability to make authority figures swoon, he has more going for him than just his ability to stop a penalty kick. He knows there are many paths out of the Mission. He lets himself dream.
“If I could get into Stanford or Berkeley,” he says, “I know that I could just go anywhere and do anything. If you go to a job interview and they ask you where you went to school, and you say, ‘I went to Stanford,’ or ‘I went to Berkeley,’ then they’ll be really impressed. My parents have always pushed me to go to college, and always wanted that to be my goal, but it’s like a double-edged sword. Because yeah, you can do a lot if you go to college. But then also, you have to worry about the money.”
That’s where soccer comes in. And as far as Kennedy is concerned, Guevara has what it takes to earn a Division I scholarship. Every summer, Mission travels across the bay to UC-Berkeley’s soccer camp. Last summer, Guevara drew high praise from Cal coaches. He hopes to turn that praise into a scholarship offer. But that can wait. For now, he has a championship to win.
The Bears wake up. It’s taken 25 minutes, giving up a goal, and a punch to the gut. But now, they show that they can punch right back.
They start creating chances. Jose Mendoza, the senior striker and the team’s leading goal scorer, gets possession 15 yards in front of the goal. He shoots hard and low, but the O’Connell keeper punches it away, keeping it out of goal but leaving it in play.
The ball rests on the ground just feet in front of the goal, and players from both teams sprint to the ball, but when Mission senior forward Max Rybold arrives, no one is close enough to challenge him. He barely has to touch it.
Less than one minute later Mendoza passes the ball from the right side of the field to Isai Rosales, about 15 yards in front of the goal. Recent immigrants from Guatemala, Rosales and his twin brother Josue are both midfielders, both quiet, both smart, and both dreamers, kids who envision themselves playing professionally someday.
Isai collects the pass from Mendoza and shoots high. O’Connell’s keeper punches it into the air, away from goal, and right back to Isai. He lifts his foot and strikes the ball. It flies past the keeper, kisses the far goalpost, and lands at the back of the net.
At halftime, order has been restored. The players grab bottles of water and Gatorade and huddle around Kennedy. “I said I wanted this game to be 5 to 1,” the coach says. “We got two—now go get three more. This is our time. This is where we bury them.”
The second half begins, and the Bears are holding onto possession, rarely allowing the Boilermakers any opportunity to attack. When the ball is free, the Bears are the first to seize it.
When an O’Connell player makes a good pass, the Bears are quick to react. They are darting their way past defenders and creating multiple opportunities for shots. They just need one. One goal, and it’s all over. One goal to break the Boilermakers’ will, to deliver the Bears the championship. And at this moment, Kennedy expects that goal to come from one of his seniors.
Last night, Mission ended its final practice of the season with a time-honored ritual. First, they ran—of course. They ran like they loved it, like they were reveling in the pain. In between sprints, Jose Guevara leapt up and down, egging his teammates on, and they all screamed “Vamos!” as if they were daring their coach to make them sprint just one more time.
Finally they stopped. Kennedy called them over into a huddle, and he told them to get in a line. “It’s time to honor our seniors,” Kennedy said, gesturing for them to come forward, “because this is the last time they will ever practice with this team and on this field.”
Jose Mendoza stepped forward. Jose Guevara and Diego Tamayo stood next to him, one on each side. The two juniors then grabbed the senior by the legs, laughing as they held him, and they lifted him up so that he could sit, straddling their shoulders. Behind Mendoza, two other underclassmen lifted Max, positioning him in the same way. After them, each of the remaining seniors found a seat on underclassmen’s backs.
And in this manner, at the end of their last practice at Mission, the seniors were carried off the field.