(L to R) Mission High School head boys' coach Jose Mendoza Jr., midfielder Max Mendoza and assistant Jose Gallardo after winning the NorCal title on March 3 in Hilmar, Calif. (Courtesy / Jose Mendoza Sr.)

SF Boys’ High School Coach of the Year: Mission’s Jose Mendoza Jr.

By Ryan Maquiñana
Special to S.F. Examiner

The San Francisco Glens Soccer Club of USL League Two are proud to partner with the Examiner in featuring boys’ and girls’ high school soccer in The City.

Two weeks ago, Mission High School head coach Jose Mendoza Jr. had a quite a dilemma on his hands.

The Northern California Division V Boys’ Soccer Championship Game was approaching, and despite the biggest game in school history just 24 hours away, star forward Julio Gonzalez Ponce informed him that he would be unable to play.

“I had a shift as a busboy at a restaurant in the Mission District at the same time, and my boss told me to choose between my job and the game,” Gonzalez Ponce said.

Mendoza immediately got in contact with the manager and surprised her with a compelling case on behalf of his player.

“I let her know that I’m also running two restaurants myself in Burlingame; I know how hard it is when people call off,” said Mendoza, who runs XXX Chicken and Nachoria. “But she didn’t realize how big of a game this was for Julio; forget the title. This was a chance for Julio to be seen by a lot of coaches that could maybe lead to a college scholarship.”

A now-more sympathetic boss eventually allowed Gonzalez Ponce to suit up for the Bears, and his two goals catapulted Mission to a 4-1 win over Hilmar for the the first NorCal championship in school and CIF San Francisco Section history.

“A big reason why I do this is to make sure players are seen to give them a pathway to college,” said Mendoza Jr., the 2019 SF Examiner High School Boys’ Coach of the Year. “I was one of those kids.”

A Mission alumnus who earned a scholarship at UNLV during his playing days, Mendoza has now built a local powerhouse as a coach. In addition to the NorCal title, the Bears also won the City championship and defeated juggernaut University in non-conference play.

“It feels good to see our success, but it’s not just me putting in all the work. It’s the whole team and assistant coaches helping out in what we’re trying to build,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza’s demeanor is as even-keeled during practice as it is during games. When his players were asked if he was a yeller, they laughed in unison.

“No way. It’s great to play for [Mendoza],” said Gonzalez Ponce, who recently was named SF Examiner Boys’ Player of the Year after scoring 44 goals the past two seasons. “He’s very understanding. I came here as a sophomore from El Salvador and the whole year I didn’t get to play, but he believed in me and kept pushing me.”

Gonzalez Ponce and 14 other seniors will be leaving a massive void. But the one returnee Mendoza and his players hope will be ready to play again next winter is defender Aaron Villareal, who is still in the hospital recovering from a tragic car crash that killed three of his siblings.

“Obviously Julio won Player of the Year but we have a lot of kids who could have competed for that spot, this year and next,” Mendoza Jr said. “One of those will be Aaron when he comes back. He’s going to be our team captain.”

READERS’ CHOICE: Dante Popalisky, Washington.

Mission ran roughshod over the competition this season until the last two weeks, when they faced a razor-sharp challenge from Washington.

Over the course of the season, Popalisky and assistant Nobel Hagdu developed the Eagles into a machine on both sides of the ball. Led by the triple threat of Michael Herrera, TK Elbert, and Leo Geiger, Washington upset Mission in the regular season before falling 1-0 to the Bears in the City championship.

“We gave our players a structure, and when everyone bought in to their roles, it allowed us to beat Mission and get as far as we did in the playoffs,” the coach said.

Popalisky won the online vote on SFGlens.com, which counted for one-third of the total, with 45 percent of the tally. The coaches and media ballots counted for the other two-thirds.

STILL TO COME: SF High School Girls’ Coach of the Year, Girls’ Player of the Year, and the All-San Francisco First and Second Teams.

The San Francisco Glens’ USL League Two home opener is May 17 at Boxer Stadium. With four players from last season selected in the MLS SuperDraft, come watch the next wave of local soccer stars this summer. From now until March 31, every season ticket purchase will come with a Limited Edition Jimmy Conrad bobblehead! Get yours now at sfglens.com/tickets.

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