By Bill Sheehan
They are both midfielders who aspire to play soccer professionally. One is an inspirational senior captain returning from a season-ending injury, the other a sophomore whose quiet demeanor belies his fierce competitiveness.
Now, the two are joining forces in an effort to propel Cal State Fullerton to its fourth Big West Conference men's soccer title in five years.
"The team is going to be great," said Robert Coronado, who is healthy after taking an injury redshirt in 2017. "We lost nine guys from last year, but several of our top returners are seniors. And our new guys are looking good. I'm getting a good vibe."
Alex Juarez, a second-year standout, agrees. "Obviously, we want to win the conference and go far in the NCAA tournament."
The Titans begin their season Monday with an exhibition game at Titan Stadium against California. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
"They will work very well together," said Titans Head Coach George Kuntz. "Coronado is very technically skilled and smart, and he makes good decisions. He's been a vocal leader, even as a freshman.
"Juarez is a leader by example, has a strong work ethic and gives 110 percent each game. He's also a smart player who is technically very good under pressure. He knows how to create space for himself and get out of tight situations."
Former teammate describes duo
Nicolo D'Amato, who wrapped up his Titan career in 2017, has played with both student-athletes and expects big things from each this season.
"Robert and I came in together as freshman. He made me a better player, for sure," said D'Amato. "He's technically gifted and can use both feet — he's got a dangerous left foot. He can do things with the ball that most people can't do. Sometimes even the coaches are in awe."
"Alex was one of the most talented freshmen we've had, a very technical player who knows what to do. He's also a quarterback of the team and remains calm on the ball, even with multiple people on him. He's not a super-loud guy, but he loves the game."
Coronado, 22, sat out last year after being diagnosed with a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot. He had a 2-inch screw inserted in his foot and endured a seven-month rehabilitation that included the use of a knee scooter, crutches and a special boot.
"It was really tough, but I kept telling myself to do the exercises," Coronado said. "I had to work on foot balance and ankle mobility, as well as regaining strength in my hamstrings and quads. My family and friends were very helpful, and I'm glad I had their support."
A business major with a concentration in finance, Coronado continued to have a strong presence around the team despite his playing hiatus. He attended all home games and most road games held in Southern California. He also drove to UC Davis for the Big West final and to Stockton for an NCAA tournament game at Pacific. On the latter road trip, he left home at 11 a.m. and returned at 3 a.m.
"I really wanted to show support to the team," said Coronado, who will share captain duties with senior Ross McPhie.
Coronado appeared in 23 games as a freshman, starting in eight of them, with two goals and two assists. He started 18 games and recorded one goal and four assists as a sophomore, and he started 22 games as a junior, with one goal and six assists.
The fifth-year senior has racked up 12 assists over his career, just three shy of being tied 10th all-time in the history of the program.
High school standouts
At La Habra High, Coronado played three years on the varsity team and was a three-year captain and two-time Offensive Player of the Year. He fractured the fifth metatarsal bone, this time on his left foot, as a high school senior.
In his spare time, Coronado coaches youth soccer teams and occasionally will perform magic tricks for family and friends.
Juarez, like Coronado, also excelled during his freshman year at Fullerton. He started 18 games and took 20 shots, six of them on goal.
"I did pretty good, but I know I can do a lot better," said Juarez, 19, who lives with his family in Long Beach. "One of the reasons I'm so calm is that I have good awareness. I'm constantly checking and analyzing. My job is to distribute to the forwards."
He attended Downey High school before transferring to the LA Galaxy Academy at the StubHub Center in Carson. Academy students receive educational tutoring and attend workshops while taking online classes. They also receive extensive soccer training, and some students play for LA Galaxy II, a reserve team of the LA Galaxy. Juarez was in the academy's second-ever graduating class in spring 2017.
"It's not the same as a traditional school," said the 5-foot-9 Juarez. "There is soccer training in the morning, then we shifted to academics. If you fall behind in the schoolwork, you aren't allowed to train."
Kuntz wins both players' praise for how he handles the team.
"He has a winning mentality and tells us what he expects," said Coronado.
"The coach focuses on the team and takes time each day to meet with players," said Juarez. "He has a lot of knowledge. It's a privilege playing for him."
Parents closely follow their sons' performances
The parents of Coronado and Juarez enjoy seeing their sons' games on a regular basis.
"I have three boys who play soccer and I'm able to go to all of their games. It's a great feeling," said Robert Coronado. Robert is the oldest sibling. Cesar, the middle son, attends Fullerton College, and Hector is a senior at La Habra High.
"It's great for my wife (Adriana) and me that they are all playing locally," said the elder Coronado, who is a general superintendent for Cosco Fire Protection in Brea.
Michelle Juarez said she and her husband, Omar, make it to all of Alex's games. They have an older son, Omar, and a younger son, Andres, a junior high student who plays on a club team.
"Alex has always been an athletic kid and always was very focused on school, very disciplined and goal-oriented, said Michelle, who works as an executive administrative assistant for SA Recycling, a national scrap metal recycling company.
Recalling Alex's start in soccer at age 4, Michelle said there were two words he repeated over and over: "More balls! More balls!"
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