UHV's Adrian Mendoza is a predator on the field
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Incredulous opponents would have a hard time believing Adrian Mendoza is not a natural-born forward.
His pace, physicality and finishing for the University of Houston-Victoria soccer team have been just one reason the Jaguars are off to a roaring start.
"When he was younger he was a forward, from 4 through 9. After that he was a center mid - or right or left - or wherever the coaches needed him," said Maria Mendoza about her only son.
Those tricks caused enough terror in the Southwest Assembly of God defense during Saturday's game that when Mendoza whipped in a cross from the left wing in the 15th minute the Lions bundled the ball across the line for an own goal.
The Jaguars wound up winning 3-0 to record a fourth straight home shutout. Abel Farias and Ranique Ramsarupe scored their first goals of the season for UHV as they improved to 7-1 on the season.
Mendoza has scored 11 goals and assisted for three others. His four game-winning goals leads the nation, and his total tally is third in NAIA scoring.
All of this from someone who started the season as a super substitute.
In the season opener against Northwood University Mendoza scored a hat trick off the bench to cement his starting position.
"It's great to have a talent like that," said UHV soccer coach Adrian Rigby. "He's a hard worker and he's a finisher. He's getting chances around the goal, where some guys might not be able to put it in, he's just calm around the goal. He has a lot of goals off of (penalty kicks) as well. He has confidence taking those. We knew what we had coming in, but he's lived up to expectations. For a freshman, he's done a hell of a job."
Maria's family were mostly baseball players. However, Adrian was introduced to the sport as soon as he could walk because he would accompany his father, Adrian Sr., to his matches.
That passion he has for the sport led Mendoza to fight harder in his recovery from injured meniscuses in both knees and a torn ACL in his right knee 18 months ago. He told his mother not to worry about him getting injured again because soccer is so much a part of who is is.
"I think after this injury, sitting at home thinking about soccer, it made me want more soccer," Mendoza said. "Soccer is my passion and every one of my teammates, soccer is their passion-and the coaching staff as well. That is why we play so hard."
It's through soccer that the former member of the state's Olympic Development Program, and academy trainee of the Houston Dynamo that Mendoza honors the late Jesus Mendoza and Camilo Gaytan, who were his grandfathers.
Both men died within weeks of each other in the Summer of 2009. The 18-year old center forward honors their memory with every goal.
Trips to Brownsville to visit Gaytan and Guanajuato, Mexico to visit his paternal grandfather are memories Adrian holds near as each time Mendoza takes the field, whether as a starter or substitute, he does a sign of the cross and looks skyward for guidance.
"I bow down to God. I actually talk to my grandparents. That's why I look up at the sky when I am on my knees - I am talking to my grandparents. I ask them to let me have a good game, my teammates and everyone. Both of them loved watching me play. Whenever I scored goals and pointed at them they would start tearing up, so that is why every time I score I point (skyward)."
Maria said the Mendoza family is extraordinairly close, and her son has support for family and friends in Katy, Brownsville and Houston. Saturday, she, Adrian Sr. and Adrian's two younger sisters were all at the cage to watch the Jaguars.
The pride and joy the family gets from seeing No. 26 harass defenders, or link-up play with the UHV midfield spills through Maria's words about her son. But even this start to Mendoza's collegiate career has surprised her.
"We we're hoping he would score," Maria said. "We always knew he could make it because he played with passion."
Mendoza may have spent most of the last decade unlocking defenses, but those attributes developed as a midfielder might have eased his transition.
He has a penchant for hanging on the shoulder of the last defender, looking to exploit any mistakes at the back, but his background as a creator helps circulate the ball the UHV wingers and midfielders. Rigby said that is one of his best attributes for a team that plays an attack-oriented 4-3-3- system.
"Whenever, I get the ball, I don't think about scoring and my teammates don't think about scoring," Mendoza said. "We think about giving the ball to someone else so they can score. If we link up together, goals will come."
UHV has outscored opponents 23-3 this season. Mendoza might be responsible for 60 percent of the goals, but he is quick to deflect the praise to his teammates. He added the humility, and collective spirit among the Jaguars, are more important than his individual contributions.
"Every time someone scores, it doesn't matter who it is," Mendoza said. "We celebrate like it's the only goal we are going to score. Whenever we score, and the whole team comes to celebrate with you, you get more momentum to score some more goals for the team."