A slight change of position led to some new success for Flagstaff boys soccer’s Marco Avitia.
The senior striker transitioned from defender to a depended-on offensive role starting at the end of his junior year -- and the switch massively paid off for him and his squad. The Eagles went 11-1 and stayed within the top 5 of the AIA power rankings for most of the season in the 4A Conference, even sitting at No. 1 for a stint as they finished with their best record since 2012-13.
Despite the Eagles falling short of the conference finals, losing to powerhouse No. 1-seeded Salpointe Catholic 4-1, Avitia and the rest of the Eagles reveled in the program's strong year.
For his late-game heroics and strong senior season, Avitia has been named the Arizona Daily Sun's boys soccer athlete of the year.
Just one year after being named the Grand Canyon Region Defensive Player of the Year, Avitia added another piece of hardware in being named the region’s offensive player of the year this past season.
His evolution is exactly what he wanted to accomplish with his switch to offense.
“I just wanted to set a new goal and see if I can get region player of the year and I ended up getting offensive, and I’m OK with that,” Avitia said.
Playing as the team’s top option on offense was different for the senior, but the change came easy to him. Thanks to his upperclassman's experience as a defender, Eagles head coach Mike Jenkins said he had options to use Avitia in unique ways.
From being used as essentially an extra defender to being a decoy at times on offense, Avitia’s talents were on display across the pitch.
“Marco just all around is a good player -- you can play him anywhere you want and he’s gonna excel at it,” Jenkins said. “He just kinda wanted to change. He played defense for a long time and he wanted to transition out of there. The transition actually started after the end of last year.”
Avitia gained the attention of each defense he faced his senior year. The first time it happened, Jenkins said, was in the Eagles' second game of Grand Canyon Region play on the road at Bradshaw Mountain.
The Bears marked Avitia all game, keeping the senior from getting even a couple yards of space to work. The two teams were locked at 0-0 all game until the last minute -- which was exactly what Jenkins expected going into the contest.
“That was the first game of the season where they man-marked Marco,” Jenkins said of the game. “ … They had kinda scouted us knowing we were playing them pretty early coming out of the Christmas break, so immediately going into the game they had one of their center backs and basically his job was to man-mark Marco.”
Avitia took a throw in after getting a sliver of space off his defender and had just enough room to rifle a shot into the back of the net and give his team the game-winning goal.
“I was shut down the whole game, they weren’t giving me even five yards of space,” Avitia said. “They were on me the whole time, and in the last four seconds they gave me space to rip it and I got the last goal for us.”
The senior's talents even netted the him a tryout with the LA Galaxy around the middle of the varsity season.
Avitia said the tryout went well and that he made it to the end of the process before another athlete was chosen instead of him.
“It was great; they picked someone else over me as the final spot, but other than that it was great,” Avitia said. “I got to go up against great players and experience something I’ve never gotten to do.”
Avitia said will be attending Gateway Community College and has signed on to play soccer next season and will study auto mechanics while there.