By Jason Anderson
STOCKTON - Delta College soccer coach David Bond was trying to explain Josue Araiza's early-season scoring spree during practice Monday when the freshman striker from Edison High did something that nearly left him speechless.
A teammate fired a crossing pass toward the center of the box. A number of defenders converged and the goalkeeper left his post to play the ball in the air, but somehow Araiza, at 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds, got under the ball with just enough space to create a shot.
With his back to the goal, he needed just one touch to direct the ball flawlessly off his foot, bouncing it between two defenders into the lower-right corner of the net.
"See ... just like that," Bond said. "He just ... most guys would ... that's what he does. He just puts them in the back of the net. They're not back-of-the-net breakers. They're just like that. He's calm, and he just places them where they need to go. They pay millions of dollars for people with that mentality."
In four short weeks, Araiza has contributed greatly to the growing buzz around Delta's men's soccer program. The Mustangs are 4-2-2 going into their Big 8 Conference opener against Santa Rosa at 4 p.m. Friday at Delta. Santa Rosa won its fourth consecutive Big 8 title and reached the state quarterfinals last season, but the Mustangs think this might be their year after playing Lassen, ranked No. 2 in the state, to a scoreless draw Sept. 15.
Bond came in last season to resurrect a program that went 26-75-12 overall and 0-34-2 in conference play in the five years before his arrival. He scoured the area for top players from Stockton, Lodi, Manteca and Tracy, assembled a revamped roster full of freshmen and brought in quality assistant coaches in Frank Ramirez and Jordan Ferrell.
The Mustangs had 11 wins last season and won a conference game for the first time since 2004. Now they want more.
"We want to win a state championship," said Araiza, who was named The Record's 2010 Boys Soccer Player of the Year after leading Edison to the Sac-Joaquin Section semifinals last season.
Coaches expected Araiza to play a backup role on a talented team made up mostly of sophomores, but he quickly forced them to reconsider. Araiza scored 14 goals in his first six games despite playing 10 minutes in the season opener against Napa Valley on Aug. 26.
"We put him in for 10 minutes and he scored two goals," Bond said. "I said, 'Geez, I wonder how many he'd score if we played him 90 minutes.' "
Araiza started four days later and scored four goals in a 4-0 victory over Merritt. He had two more goals against Monterey Peninsula three days after that and five goals against Skyline on Sept. 13.
"He's amazing," said sophomore midfielder Navid Sharifi, a West High product. "He has everything. He has speed, he's quick and he has shots, and he can finish. Other forwards get those chances and can't finish like he can."
Araiza always had a knack for scoring as a kid growing up on Stockton's south side. But he points out that his goals for the Mustangs are a product of Delta's 3-6-1 system and the precision passing of midfielders such as Sharifi, Alexis Leon, Raul Fernandez, Waleed Fayzi, Jose Estrada and Luis Duran.
"I'm the only striker," Araiza said. "I'm the one up top, and my middles are always giving me good balls. With the passes they give me, I better score."
While most teams employ a 4-4-2 formation with four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards, the Mustangs have three defenders, six midfielders and one forward.
"The 3-6-1 is the only system that's really designed to beat the 4-4-2, which is what everybody in the state plays," Bond said. "Josue is really the perfect player for this system because his first touch is great and he's quick enough to find the spaces on his own."
One teammate called Araiza "unstoppable." Another said he was an invaluable addition to the team.
"He does what a striker is supposed to do, and that's finish," Emmanuel Ortiz said. "That's what we needed, and we definitely got what we needed."
Bond, a former Stagg High standout, and Ferrell, who starred at Lincoln, both played at Hayward State, now Cal State East Bay, and both have professional soccer backgrounds. Even they marvel at Araiza's scoring ability.
"I've played all my life," Bond said. "I played at Hayward State when we were probably no lower than top five in the country every year and we had some guys who had long professional careers, but I've never seen anybody score like this. Can he keep it up? I don't know, but I do know he has some special talent."
Contact reporter Jason Anderson at (209) 546-8283 or email@example.com.