Time Out: Matt VanValkenburg Daily Star's top soccer player

Matt VanValkenburg gets it. On Saturday, the Margaretville soon-to-be-senior was named the Oneonta Daily Star 2013 Boys’ High School Soccer Player of the Year. The opening of sportswriter Rob Centorani’s story announcing the Player of the Year selection says a lot about the soccer player and the person who is Matt VanValkenburg. Here’s how Centorani started.
TOP HONORS — Margaretville’s Matt VanValkenburg heads the ball into the nets as he ties the score with the second of his three goals leading the Blue Devils to a 3-2 overtime victory against Charlotte Valley in the November 2, 2013 sectional finals contest. — Photo by Dick SanfordTOP HONORS — Margaretville’s Matt VanValkenburg heads the ball into the nets as he ties the score with the second of his three goals leading the Blue Devils to a 3-2 overtime victory against Charlotte Valley in the November 2, 2013 sectional finals contest. — Photo by Dick Sanford

“Want to be a goal scorer? Well, here’s a quick tutorial. Step One: ‘Pass first because the ball with definitely come back to you. You have to be willing to give up an OK chance to get a great chance.’ Step Two: ‘The first touch has to be soft. You have to have it going where you want it.’ Step Three: ‘Use both feet effectively.’”

Combination of skills
It’s the combination of physical and mental skills that make Matt VanValkenburg uniquely talented on the soccer field. Yes, VanValkenburg has the skills to find the back of the nets with either foot as he described in step three, the skills that allow him to leverage passes in his direction from wherever they might originate. VanValkenburg uses a similar double-barreled scoring approach in the winter on the basketball court, floating through the middle of the three-second lane and dropping teardrop shots through the hoop with either hand.
But, as exemplified in steps one and two, VanValkenburg’s soccer game is so much more than that. “Pass first” is an instruction often lost on leading soccer scorers in a high-school game. Too many times, developing high school scorers fail to heed VanValkenburg’s advice, fearing that in passing the ball they will never get it back, thus dominating the ball and forcing ill advised shots on goal.
In giving up the soccer ball, a skilled offensive player like VanValkenburg becomes doubly difficult to mark. But, trusting your teammates enough to send the ball away from your foot takes a wisdom and maturity not often found in the best high school scorers. It’s the reason VanValkenburg, who led all area high school soccer players last year in scoring, also had the most assists. And, it’s a major reason why VanValkenburg’s Blue Devils developed the team attitude and spirit to win another sectional soccer championship.

Start “softly”
“The first touch has to be soft.” VanValkenburg’s start to step two, speaks of the young man’s poise on the pitch. In essence, Margaretville’s leading scorer was saying it’s not only important to pass, it’s critical to direct the pass in a specific direction to an exact spot. That speaks well of VanValkenburg’s calm on the field and his ability to see the entire field, a point emphasized by his coach Jeremey Marks in Centorani’s story.
“If you watch him play, he just does everything well. He’s good with his feet, he sees the game extremely well and he’s unselfish,” Marks reiterated.
That poise serves VanValkenburg well with the ball on his foot going one-on-one at the keeper. Many times in high school, soccer players with a breakaway opportunity squander their chance by rushing and blasting the ball, rather than calmly soft-tapping the ball in the opposite direction the tender is moving. Not VanValkenburg.
As VanValkenburg would attest, having skilled players around you is an important component of one’s soccer success. That fact helps explain the addition of two senior teammates of VanValkenburg’s selected to the Star’s First Team All-Stars. Kyle Short and Roberto Sarabia were two of the 12 All-Stars named by the Star.