Harlingen High’s Zapata nabs Herald/Star top GK honors

2 weeks ago 27

WRITER’S NOTE: This story is part of a series highlighting the Brownsville Herald/Valley Morning Star boys soccer all-area award winners. The Herald/Star coverage area ranges from Brownsville to La Feria. Check back throughout the week as we reveal the Lower Valley’s other superlative winners and be sure to pick up a copy of Saturday’s newspaper for a complete list of the all-area winners. 

Harlingen High’s Juan Zapata wasn’t always a goalkeeper. The senior didn’t begin playing the position until seventh grade, starting in the net for then-head coach Joey Johnson at Gutierrez Middle School.

The two reconnected in high school, with Johnson taking over Harlingen High’s program in 2022. Since then, Zapata has started in the net for the Cardinals, evolving into one of the top goalkeepers in the Valley.

From a second-team all-district selection as a sophomore, to sharing the district’s goalie of the year award last year, Zapata has slowly climbed the ranks.

He put his best campaign together this past season, with the senior goalkeeper racking up nine clean sheets and helping the Cardinals advance to the third round of the playoffs for a second straight year.

Zapata is the Herald/Star 2024 All-Area Boys Soccer Goalkeeper of the Year.

Harlingen High goalkeeper Juan Zapata. (Andrew Cordero | Special to RGVSports)

“I wasn’t always a goalie,” Zapata said. “I started playing the position in middle school. I never really practiced it before, it just happened. I was decent enough back then I guess because here I am now.”

Like Zapata, the Cardinals have risen the ranks among the RGV’s top soccer programs over the past three seasons, going from a non-playoff team to a consistent contender for district and even state titles.

Last season the Cardinals made their first playoff appearance since 2018, advancing to the third round of the postseason for the first time since 2000.

They continued to build off that success this year, getting back to the Region IV-6A quarterfinals for a second straight year.

Harlingen High goalkeeper Juan Zapata. (Victor Dominguez | Special to RGVSports)

“It’s been a great journey,” Zapata said. “I remember seeing those videos of other teams going to the playoffs my sophomore year. Then being able to experience it myself with my team these past two years, it was great. We put in that work to get there though.”

A big reason for the Cardinals’ rise has been the consistent play of Zapata in the net. The senior goalkeeper made it difficult for opposing defenses to score this season, making countless acrobatic saves en route to a 6-3-1 district mark.

Zapata’s work didn’t end inside the net, also barking out commands to the defense to set them up for success.

“When it comes to being a goalie, you just have to do your job,” Zapata said. “When it comes to pressure, I don’t feel that much. I just got to do my job. It is just me and the goal. When I have a good game, it is just me doing my job.”

Harlingen High finished the year with a 17-8-6 overall mark, making back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since making it three straight years from 2007-2009.

The Cardinals goalkeeper leaves big shoes to fill next season, leaving Harlingen High as a two-time District 32-6A goalkeeper of the year and a one-time all-area superlative award winner.

Harlingen High’s Juan Zapata is the Herald/Star 2024 Boys Soccer All-Area Goalkeeper of the Year. (Andrew Cordero | Special to RGVSports)

“It means a lot to win this award,” Zapata said. “It just shows my progress. My sophomore year I won second team all-district. Last year I got co-goalie of the year with someone else in the district. This year, I finally got it by myself in the district and even better I got the award for the Lower Valley. It means a lot. It shows I’m growing. I’ve put in the work, and it shows.”

ivan@themonitor.com

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