Tucked away near the Idaho border, Ontario has quietly gone about building a 4A boys soccer contender under coach Jaime Gonzalez in recent seasons.
The Tigers, more than six hours from the centers of power in the state, have gone 35-9-8 in the past four seasons under Gonzalez. The 2001 Ontario graduate has reaped the benefits after kick-starting the long-dormant Ida/Ore FC Tigers youth program with his brother, Javier, Ontario's girls coach.
“We don't get a lot of love here on the east side, which I don't blame them, because they don't see us,” Gonzalez said. “The last four years, I've probably had the best teams in school history.”
Ontario lost only once in each of the last two seasons, falling to Woodburn 3-0 in the 2019 quarterfinals and to Stayton 1-0 in the semifinals of the 4A Showcase in the spring. Both opponents went on to win titles.
Those seasons might have been Ontario's best chance to win its first state championship. But even though many of the Tigers' top players have moved on, perhaps there is still a crack in their state-title window.
“I think what we've built is installed in them, and now it's their time to show,” Gonzalez said. “So hopefully they take those opportunities and lift up their game. Winning culture, it's amazing what it can do to players. You may not consider them super athletes, but man, they give you everything they've got. Sometimes that's a better team.”
The Tigers lost eight players from last season, including three standouts who have moved on to play at Treasure Valley Community College in forward Adrian Nunes, defender Javi Conchas and goalkeeper Jose Anguiano.
But they still have eight seniors on their roster this season, among them fourth-year varsity players in center midfielders Juan Corona and Jaime Gonzalez, the coach's son. The lineup also features junior center midfielder Jamis Gonzalez, the son of Javier.
“They're not up there as much as my last few guys that graduated, but they're close,” coach Gonzalez said of his team, which was No. 6 in the OSAAtoday 4A preseason coaches poll. “They all played together in club.
“We still kind of have that same formula. We still have that base. These were the younger kids that we started with in the club, but they also have that DNA in them already from years past. We're still preaching the same thing.”
The Tigers also have junior forward Jaaziel Chavez, the team's leading scorer in the spring. Chavez, known as “Chino” to teammates, can play on the wing or out top as a striker.
“He does a little bit of everything,” coach Gonzalez said. “He's got some good speed, but my center mids are pretty much our engines. On the outside, he's got some good speed to catch up to those through balls.”
Ontario bolted out of the gate with a 9-1 win at Fruitland (Idaho) on Monday. Jamis Gonzalez scored three goals and Jaime Gonzalez had two assists in the win.
With a new lineup, though, the Tigers have much to prove this season before they can be considered serious threats to teams such as No. 1 Stayton, No. 2 Phoenix and No. 3 Marist Catholic
They took some satisfaction last season in showing they belonged among the state's elite by holding their own in the loss to Stayton and rebounding with a 1-0 win over Marist Catholic in the 4A Showcase third-place game.
“We were really proud of that group last season,” coach Gonzalez said. “I don't think they expected that from us.”
Ontario gets an early test this month when it makes the long road trip to southern Oregon for back-to-back games against 6A South Medford (Sept. 17) and Phoenix (Sept. 18).
“It's a long trip, but it's one of those trips I wish we would've done years ago,” coach Gonzalez said. “If we had this strong team that we had the last three or four years, it might be a different story.
“We're going to have a battle on our hands. But I told these kids, 'This is what you're going to see over here. You'll see the difference.””