Almost three months ago, Mike Marse pulled Jason Cano and Zeus Huerta aside.
It was the first week of practice, and the Delavan-Darien High boys soccer coach had a light-hearted challenge for his two star forwards.
“I said, ‘You know what? I want 50 goals from both of you,’” Marse recalled.
The number sounds ridiculous. There are plenty of programs around the state that didn’t score 50 total goals this season. Nine of the 16 teams competing at the WIAA state tournament later this week scored less than 100 goals this year, and the six others not named Delavan-Darien scored between 104 and 109.
The Wisconsin Soccer Coaches Association lists just 13 50-goal seasons by boys players in state history.
Yet if Cano scores once during the Comets’ bid to repeat as the Division 3 state champions, he and Huerta will give the program an astonishing feat—two 50-goal scorers in one season.
“It’s funny that they did it, or at least almost did it,” Marse said this week as his top-seeded team prepared for Friday afternoon’s 4 p.m. semifinal against Plymouth at Uihlein Soccer Park in Milwaukee. “They’re both really good at finding other players to play the ball to.
“I guess it might be bad to say that I’m not surprised. But I’m not.”
Huerta, a junior, sits at 50 goals and 22 assists for the Comets, who are 24-1-3 and advanced through the toughest sectional in the state. He finished with 11 and 10, respectively, last season when the program won its third gold ball—and its second in three years.
“He can take the ball anywhere he wants to,” assistant coach Francisco Huerta said.
“And even when he stops,” Marse added, “he can go so fast the other direction that he hops over guys. He can be sideways and still moving forward; I don’t know how he does it.”
Cano was brought up to the varsity squad for the team’s state-title run his freshman year. He had 37 goals and 24 assists as a sophomore and then 17 and 18, respectively, last season.
The 5-foot-9, 160-pound senior has 49 goals and 27 assists in his final high school campaign.
“I’ve known him since he was a little boy, because I coached his older cousin ... and he (Jason) would always come over and was always on a soccer field,” Marse said. “He’s got power, he’s got speed, and that kid can make a ball do whatever he wants.”
The Huerta-Cano combination has been lethal. The Comets enter state with 150 goals scored in 27 games. It’s a state record for goals in a season, according to the state coaches association, eclipsing the 140 Delavan-Darien scored in 2015.
Cano and Huerta say the numbers are, at least in part, a byproduct of the freedom with which they’re allowed to play. Cano can drop back into the midfield and play a ball forward to the high-energy Huerta. Minutes later, they may have switched spots, and Huerta can feed a ball forward to the deceptively speedy Cano.
It’s more of a philosophy that the Comets play with than it is a system. Marse asks the team to play with a different approach than many other high school or club teams. While some coaches advise more structure and try to break players of habits born from their childhood days on the playground, Marse incorporates some of that creativity, and it breeds unpredictability.
“It keeps teams on their heels, being able to move around the field like that,” Cano said. “It makes it really hard for defenses.”
“The forwards are never going to get yelled at for being out of position,” Marse said. “It’s just the way we’ve done it, and I think it works.”
The Comets already have two state titles—and now at the very least a third trip to state over the past four years—to show for it.
They’ve also had some big stats to show for it. When they won the state title in 2014, Juan “Chuy” Rocha scored 55 goals, and Tigrio Huerta added 33 goals and 32 assists.
“Tigrio’s my brother, so I always looked up to him,” Zeus Huerta said.
A year later, it was Tigrio’s turn to eclipse 50 goals, to go along with Cano’s solid numbers. Things were spread out a bit more last year, with seven players scoring at least 10 times and nobody near 50, but Tigrio led the way with 37 goals.
Now the Comets have the top two goal-scorers in the state, and they’re on the verge of 50 apiece, which is unheard of.
“At first, it wasn’t a goal,” Huerta said. “We knew we were going to score a lot of goals, but it just kind of happened along the way.”
“If coach thinks we’re able to do it, then we trust him,” Cano added, referencing back to the preseason meeting between the forwards and their coach. “We just tried to give him what he wanted.”