An experienced fútbol star from the Canary Islands, junior exchange student Juan Montabes prepares to make his mark as a midfielder on this season’s varsity soccer squad, seeking to win an SPC championship.
Then freshman Juan Montabes is standing on a soccer pitch in Tenerife, Canary Islands. It’s the semifinals of the league playoffs, and his team is down 3-0 in the 70th minute.
The match has been tough, one of the most challenging that season. It looks like their season may end in a shutout.
Something, however, clicks for the team. They turn the game around, scoring one, two, three, four goals in quick succession, setting the score at 4-3 with only a few minutes left to play.
As the final whistle sounds, Juan falls to his knees in complete awe. He’s never felt better on the soccer pitch.
Though it never crosses his mind in the heat of the moment, two years later, he’ll be playing his favorite sport on a foreign field more than 4,500 miles from home.
Montabes, now a junior exchange student, knew he would continue playing soccer when he arrived here. However, he was unsure about how he would fit into a completely new team.
“I think it’s gone pretty well,” Montabes said. “I sometimes feel like the exchange student, if that makes sense. But I am also just a student, just one more player on the team.”
Montabes also said the style of the sport here has added a little difficulty to his transition, though he adapted quickly in the season’s first few practices.
“Soccer in Europe is kind of slow and a lot about technique and less physical or fast or strong soccer,” he said, referring to the more physical style of play at this age in the U.S.
Varsity soccer head coach Corindo Martin is very pleased with the way Montabes has adapted to the new style and how he has meshed with the team.
“So far, Juan's been great,” he said. “Certainly, when you watch him play, he has a style that's very much his own. I'm looking forward to having the opportunity for him to play with us.”
Martin has had the opportunity to coach multiple exchange students in recent years, and he feels allowing the students to participate in sports only enriches their experiences.
“I think it's wonderful,” Martin said, “regardless of the ability and quality of the player, we always want him to participate in athletics. I think that's an important part of his school life,”
Athletic Director Mark Sullivan agrees with Martin, and he also feels having them play helps them to become even more ingrained in the community.
“The commonality with all of it is that they’re a member of a team,” Sullivan said, “and as a member of a team, those kids have bonded in a team that they might not have elsewhere,”
Martin said one of the things he notices with players from other countries on his team is how easily they fit into the team, no matter the skill level.
“Our boys tend to be very protective of our exchange students, kind of take them under their wings and make sure that they're enjoying themselves,” he said, “ but on top of that is their personality and how well they fit. Some of them are a little bit quieter, but some of the boys are rather outgoing and very open.”
Sullivan doesn’t see any disadvantage to having exchange students play, in part to the approach coaches take when crafting teams that include the new players.
“We [coaches] want to include them if they want to play,” Sullivan said, “but we don’t necessarily want that kid to take the place of another kid who might have played on our teams for several years. So we, if you will, add an extra spot for that kid, rather than keeping our roster the same size, which would then eliminate another kid.”
Sullivan has seen players of all different calibers come to the school and participate in various sports, but he is pleased that the program has been able to accommodate them and simply make their time here more fun.
“Athletically speaking, we’ve had kids that come in, are quite good and are major contributors to success in terms of wins and losses,” Sullivan said. “We’ve also had kids that come in and just fit in and are just a guy on a team. Then we’ve also had guys who are trying something for the very first time, and it’s a great experience.”
Montabes is already enjoying the young season, not only because of the intrinsic nature of soccer as a sport, but also because of how quickly and easily the team has come together.
“Soccer is a very easy game to have fun with, so we’re just having fun playing soccer,” Montabes said. “For example, the pre-preseason. We all met without the coaches, and I think that made a lot of bonds because we were able to play together a lot.”
As for his goals for the season, Montabes just hopes to contribute positively to the team and help them to a strong finish at SPC in February.
“I would like to score one or two goals, have good, solid games,” Montabes said. “That’s about it.”