By Ryan Maquiñana
Special to S.F. Examiner
San Francisco State men’s soccer head coach Pedro Osório’s first recruiting class will feature The City’s top high school player, as Mission’s Julio González Ponce has signed with the Gators for the 2019-20 season.
González Ponce is the reigning Examiner Prep Player of the Year, having scored 44 goals in just two seasons with the Bears after moving from El Salvador. Despite his success at Mission and outside school at the club level for Bay City FC, however, college scouts ignored the 19-year-old forward until this past summer, after his senior season.
Javier Ayala-Hil, the head coach of the San Francisco Glens’ first team in USL League Two — and Osorio’s predecessor at SF State — signed the teenage prospect to an amateur contract with the Glens for this summer, a contract designed to enable him to retain his college eligibility.
Predominantly playing on the left wing, González Ponce finished among the team leaders in scoring chances created, despite playing half the season in a league that produces over 70% of all Major League Soccer draft picks.
Subsequently, he received a late surge in interest from scouts and both Division I and II schools statewide. Ultimately, Osório’s offer of a full scholarship and the short distance from home factored into the wunderkind’s decision.
“I’m really happy to be at SF State,” said González Ponce, who led Mission to the CIF San Francisco and Northern California Division V titles as a senior. “I just want to help the team however I can to win a championship.”
So far, his transition has been smooth thanks to a built-in support system. Two Glens teammates—redshirt freshman midfielder Adrian Medina and senior forward Jonny Orozco — also play for SF State.
“I’ve known Adrian for a long time, from Bay City and then the Glens,” said González Ponce, a product of the two clubs who are now partners. “Jonny has been a big brother to me. He’s helping me a lot with what books to buy and what classes to take.”
Nonetheless, González Ponce is cognizant that his freshman year will be anything but easy.
“I need to be more physical because the defenders will be stronger in college,” he said. “I learned a lot this summer from Javi and [Glens technical director] Jimmy [Conrad] about working hard every day to reach great things because nothing good is going to come to you without work.”
His life off the field presents its own set of challenges. Though González Ponce was finally able to quit his dual jobs as a busboy in the Mission due to the scholarship, a university curriculum will be quite an endeavor for someone who picked up English three years ago.
“It’s a big relief now that I can just focus on school and soccer. My first class is next Monday,” he said. “I’m the first person in my family to go to college in the United States. It’s hard, but I talk to my Uncle Neto back in El Salvador and he tells me to just do my best, so I’m going to think of it like that. I want to make my family proud.”
González Ponce becomes the sixth departing high school senior from the Glens-Bay City partnership to make a college roster in 2019. Eric Pearce (UCLA), Kelekolio Mateo (Cal State East Bay), Joe May (Goucher College), and the duo of Tommy Cooper and Takumi Elbert (City College of San Francisco) all developed at the Glens’ youth club last season.
STREET SOCCER USA STAR ALI JOINS GONZÁLEZ PONCE AT SF STATE
Forward Moheeb Ali, whose journey to SF State mirrors González Ponce’s in several ways, has also made Osorio’s squad after a successful tryout.
Having immigrated himself to The City during high school from Yemen, Ali also had a truncated prep soccer career at Mission, playing only one season with the Bears. He even joined the Glens this past summer, but was among the final cuts after appearing in three preseason games.
“Moheeb is a skillful player, who is technically good on the ball. He’s a good dribbler with great instincts,” Ayala-Hil said. “With him, he’s just gotta play higher level games, whether it’s competitive adult leagues or at SF State. Having more of a structured environment would give him a platform of improving.”
Ali’s skills were on display at Civic Center Plaza during last month’s Street Soccer USA Cup, where he starred on the Tenderloin Street Soccer Club’s all-immigrant team.
“I personally have a great personal relationship with Street Soccer USA because they give opportunities to kids who might not get them otherwise,” said Conrad, who was instrumental in giving Ali his shot in the preseason. “I had a discussion with Rob Cann and Ben Anderson in their San Francisco office. They said they had a couple players in their pipeline that had the quality to try out with the Glens.
“Moheeb made it to the final cut. Unfortunately, there were some players that were just a little bit ahead of him, but he’s still on our radar going forward. We’d love to see him again next season and see how he’s progressed over the last eight to 10 months.”
Ali’s improvement over that timespan will be evident now that he finds himself on the Gators’ roster.