PROGRESO – The Jags knew that this would be a good measuring stick, playing on the road against a team that rode all the way to the state finals in 2016. A stern test it was, and even though Econ went down, 2-0 Tuesday, the preparation tilt for the upcoming soccer race showed that the team can have high hopes to compete for the District 31-6A title.

Controlling the ball for stretches of the game, including the first 15 minutes and then the final 20, the Jags harassed the Progreso box with quickness and deft midfield handling. But they could not dent the net, and in the final stage a quick Red Ant counter for a goal put the night to rest.

Coach Sam Gonzalez told his kids before the match that he wanted to see who was ready for the district opener, set for Tuesday against ancient rival EHS. He stressed that the Jags needed to play hard for 80 minutes Tuesday, make no excuses, and see what happens.

The team was successful in the main, holding intensity throughout, and as stated, challenged the keeper on a number of occasions. The elusive last touch, a pass to set up a winner, eluded the Jags but when Brandon Perez – a veteran scorer who has been working on the books – returns Tuesday, the missing offensive link will be reinstalled.

As it was, Gonzalez got the usual 120-yard effort from seasoned star Jonathan Segundo, who ranged up and down the pitch making effective plays. The leader in the mids was a tall, heavyset chap named Juan Iracheta, who has a light touch and sees the field well.

When the Jags charged out of the gate with fire Tuesday, a freshman was among the leading lights. Chris Garcia is a promising prospect for the side, reminding one of former program great Ernesto Adriano (aka Mighty Mouse) with his small yet thick frame and tremendous balance and speed.

In fact, this is a youthful group all around as Econ is in the same boat as Vela and EHS, having retooled a bunch after heavy graduation losses.

“Yes, we do have a lot of young kids this year, but I expect them to grow up fast and be ready to win district,” said Gonzalez, who has been the coach on the East Side for the duration of the program. “We have a tough district, and every game is different, in some way. We’re almost there, this is a good group overall.”

Gonzalez wants his Jags to come out for the opener as if they are going to play just any school.

“Because if we start thinking about it being EHS, well you know how many times that has turned into a clasico!” he noted. “We just want to treat it as any other game, and that is part of the growing up a young team learns to do.”

After a second-place finish at the Corpus Tourney, Econ battled against the Red Ants and though taking a loss, it has to be satisfied with aspects of the performance. That includes the athleticism of Mario Ferrer and Sebastian Gutierrez, who help fill out a lineup with some size and speed, one that is building experience every week. Antonio Medellin, brother of football star Michael Medillin, is another quick and strong option while wing Orly Cano shows attack potential and does not seem shy about contact.

Besides the prospect Garcia, another freshman, tallish Ramiro Rios, is a midfielder with control and skills. Soph Hiram Espino shows good instincts on the field, and right now the side is working with a trio of keepers, including football kicker Robert Gonzalez and small but speedy Miguel Escudero.

In all, expect the Jags to come into the race with a real shot at winning it. Gonzalez knows that North also has the makings of a titlist, and right now he is not willing to write off any club in the loop.

“Look around and each of those teams has something to make them good,” he insisted. “We already played P-SJ-A Memorial and they beat us … so there you go. We are not taking any team for granted, and we just want to be ready for anything, at any time.”

OTHER RESULTS

North was beaten by La Joya Tuesday, 3-1 while potential darkhorse Pharr North continued to surprise, whipping Laredo United, 5-1. EHS tied 3-3 with Harlingen Friday while Vela played at Donna North, drawing 1-1 after the game was suspended by weather. In the Cougar game the side fell down 3-0 at the half and got a goal back, from Brian Gutierrez in the second 40 minutes.

For the girls, North rebounded from a loss to McAllen Memorial with a sharp Tuesday road win at Laredo LBJ, 4-1, with Itza Rios tallying three times. EHS blanked Hidalgo, 1-0, and Econ did the same to San Benito, 2-0. Vela was off last week as its game against Mission Thursday was cancelled. The Lady SaberCats start district play with matches against North (at home) and at EHS this week. North played at Lincoln Friday and went down, 1-0.