Benefield: Soccer coach makes college real for team

Maria Carrillo's Cesar Farias brings the ball across the field during a varsity soccer game between Maria Carrillo and Tamalpais high schools at the Bay City Invitational Soccer Tournament in Santa Rosa on Sept. 7, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / For The Press Democrat)

Maria Carrillo’s Cesar Farias brings the ball across the field during a varsity soccer game between Maria Carrillo and Tamalpais high schools at the Bay City Invitational Soccer Tournament in Santa Rosa on Sept. 7, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / For The Press Democrat)



Cesar Farias knows it sounds cliché, so he tries to come up with another way to describe the feeling he has for his team.

But the Harvard-bound student with the 4.15 grade point average is stumped. So he gives in — the word just fits in this case — and proceeds.

“I think people misuse it, but we’re family,” he says of his Atletico Santa Rosa Santos soccer team. “We grew up together.

We spent Christmas together. To see all of us go to college, this doesn’t really happen to kids like us.”

For Farias, ‘kids like us’ means Latino boys.

“Prior to this, it was ‘Go to Mexico. Go pro,’ ” he said. “Now it’s ‘Get your college degree.’ ”

“It’s all Messias,” he said.

‘Messias’ is Messias Souza Dos Santos, the Brazilian-born coach who has led the select club team since most of the boys were 8 years old.

It’s Souza who taught them tactics but also pushed them to keep pace in school. It’s Souza who drilled them in skill work and then put them in front of college coaches and scouts. The same coaches and scouts who are gobbling up the players of Santos like Christmas dinner.

So far, seven Santos players are going to play soccer in college. Four of those are committed to Division I programs. Still more are still deciding where they will go. The players who are already committed are heading to Harvard, Cal, Cal Poly and CSU Northridge.

“This never happens in Sonoma County, to have as many Latinos going to college and Latinos going to Division I colleges — big colleges, Harvard and Cal Berkeley,” Souza said.

“I’m so proud, I’m so happy. That’s what I work for. It’s the best feeling ever,” Souza said.

Area coaches are calling Santos one of the most stacked club rosters in quite some time, with top-flight players from the rosters of area high schools all playing for one club team.

“It’s a special group of players,” said Jon Schwan, who coached two of Santos’ players at Montgomery and who coaches club teams with Santa Rosa United. “We haven’t seen a club team on the boys side like that lately. Back in the day, this was more common than it is now.”

Back in the day, there was only one club in town: United. Today, top-tier players have multiple clubs to choose from, which means rare is the lineup as loaded as Santos’.

But more impressive than that, said Sonoma State men’s head coach Marcus Ziemer, is the academic caliber of schools that wooed these players.

“They have a talented group,” Ziemer, who also coaches with United, said. “They have gotten out there and been seen and the kids have obviously handled the academic side of things. It doesn’t matter what kind of soccer you play if you haven’t handled the academic side of things.”

While Farias will play for the Crimson at Harvard, his Santos teammate Javier Macias is set to play for Cal, Alejandro Gomez will play for CSU Northridge and Evan Martinez, described by Schwan as “the most talented player in the area,” will suit up for Cal Poly. Three other Santo players are slated to play for Division II schools: Eric Nunn for UC San Diego, Bryan Juarez for Dominican University and Irvin Colin for CSU Monterrey Bay.

“Our coach is basically our agent,” Martinez said.

“I definitely give him credit for getting us all into a college. It’s inspiring to see that he can do that.”

But Maria Carrillo coach Mike Mastin, who had to face Martinez when he suited up for Montgomery, said the senior is being too modest. These players earned their spots.

“He’s an absolute handful,” Mastin said of Martinez. “I don’t know if there is a bigger compliment you can give a player.”

“He’s extremely athletic, a very difficult player to deal with,” he said. “Before you step into a game, you are discussing how to deal with him.”

Now it’s up to the teams of the Big West Conference to decide how to deal with Martinez.

The players of Santos will disband soon. There is not much club soccer left to be played.

They are working on fitness, working on strength — all things they will need at the next level. And because they are a Souza-coached team, they will work on technique.

And Farias is appreciating every bit of it.

He said he shot for the stars when he targeted Harvard and was overwhelmed with — was it relief? — when the school targeted him right back.

Farias used to think his soccer future would lead to Mexico, to semi-pro and or pro teams.

“Now we are seeing the world through the lens of college. It’s something not many of my teammates thought would happen to us and it has,” he said. “We have sort of changed our paradigm.”

“Messias has really taught us to be better men,” he said. “Men take care of their future, men take care of their families.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or and on Twitter @benefield.