Weber’s coaching prowess still strong in Salpointe’s comeback win over Sunnyside

The ageless Wolfgang Weber still has plenty of fight in him after all these years as Salpointe’s coach and this year’s team is a reflection of that.

Weber, who recently turned 74, is in his 39th year leading the Lancers’ program and has 691 career victories, including Tuesday’s 4-3 thrilling comeback win over a dominant Sunnyside program.

“I’m still enjoying this; let’s put it that way,” he said as he looked at his players celebrating.

The matchup of two of the top 10 programs in the state got Weber’s juices flowing. Salpointe (6-0) is ranked No. 2 in the state among 4A teams by AZPreps365 of the Arizona Interscholastic Association. Sunnyside (6-2) is No. 9 at the 5A level.

Wolfgang Weber started coaching at Salpointe in 1982 (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Weber’s vigor was not indicative of a person his age, especially one who had open-heart surgery only five years ago.

He was heard giving his thoughts to one of the officials while pacing in front of his bench in the second half with his team trying to rally back from a 3-1 deficit.

He yelled assignments as hard as he could and encouraged his players by clapping his hands and shouting after things looked bleak when Sunnyside’s Miguel Sosa scored at the 48-minute mark to give the Blue Devils the two-goal lead.

“I thought we played very poorly in the first half, and I think it was a combination of the field conditions, the wind, and a very intense Sunnyside team — they put a lot of pressure on us,” Weber said. “We didn’t seem to be able to handle all of that very well.”

Sunnyside, under highly successful coach Casey O’Brien, has turned around the series against Weber’s team in recent years to make it one of the best rivalries in Southern Arizona.

The Blue Devils had not lost to Salpointe in six straight matches dating to the 2017-18 season heading into Tuesday. They were 5-0-1 against the Lancers in that span. Sunnyside won all three of the matchups last year, including 1-0 in overtime.

“In my almost 40 years at Salpointe, we have probably played Sunnyside like 50 times and we won 40 of them, but the last several years, we’ve always came in on the short end, sometimes losing in overtime, sometimes on a PK (penalty kick) … the games have always been competitive,” Weber said. “They’ve had the better of us. For us to be able to turn it around today, it’s pretty satisfying.”

The teams traded goals in the first half with Sunnyside’s Joaquin Escalante, a Douglas transfer, first putting the Blue Devils ahead at the 16-minute mark off a pass up the middle from Eru Mazon.

Salpointe’s Fernando Garate took a deflection from teammate Cesar “Kiki” Cabello and made a goal at the 25-minute mark to tie the game.

Escalante again scored on a free kick that bounced off a Salpointe player into the corner of the goal to give Sunnyside a 2-1 lead at the 38-minute mark.

The goal by Sosa, another Douglas transfer, eight minutes into the second half that gave Sunnyside a 3-1 lead was a defining moment for Salpointe.

“We just didn’t stop believing,” Garate said. “This team has a lot of heart. We have a lot of potential to win it all again. We just didn’t stop.”

Cabello said of being two goals down: “There was a little bit of loss of hope, for sure, but we still had to stay in the game.”

Weber, known as the “Father of Soccer” in Tucson, is 691-123-24 at Salpointe and has coached well over 1,000 matches including his stints as coach of the Tucson United Soccer Club and Tucson Soccer Academy dating to the 1970’s.

He knows a two-goal deficit with 32 minutes remaining is not insurmountable.

“I just felt like if we were the ones who got the next goal, we would have a chance because I could see how overall we had more possessions and created more opportunities,” Weber said.

That next goal for Salpointe came at the 55-minute mark when Sergio Ruiz de Chavez leaped for a header off a corner kick that bounced to Garate, who then hit another header into the net.

The Lancers continued to aggressively attack and Cabello’s deflection into the net tied the match at 3 at the 67-minute mark.

Salpointe forged ahead at the 77-minute mark following Nick Hanus‘ free kick that was scored on by his younger brother Santiago, who cleaned up the loose ball after Sunnyside goalie Jorge Arvayo made two successive saves.

At the 79th minute, Elian Robles’ free kick went just over the crossbar for Sunnyside in a last-ditch effort.

O’Brien, who is trying to coach Sunnyside to its third straight Class 5A state championship match and second title in that span, believes his team will become stronger from the tough loss against a high-quality opponent.

Douglas transfer Joaquin Escalante is tied for the team lead for Sunnyside with nine goals, matching former Bulldog teammate Miguel Sosa (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“Sometimes you lose and you become better, sometimes you lose and it makes you stronger,” O’Brien said. “In all of our lives, we have that story of when you fall short, it makes you a better person, it makes you a better player, it makes you a better human. Sometimes falling short is not the worst thing in the world.

“At the end of the year, we want to be the last ones standing. This loss doesn’t take that away from us.”

Weber certainly knows of what O’Brien speaks.

When Salpointe won his seventh state championship two years ago, the Lancers tied Sunnyside during a turbulent 2-2-1 stretch midway through that year before losing to Rincon/University in the last game of the regular season.

The Lancers advanced to the state playoffs and won four straight matches outscoring opponents 22-2 to win the 4A title.

Salpointe’s Raul Torres tries to get past Sunnyside’s Eddie Loya and Joaquin Escalante (14) (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“Sunnyside scored quality goals because we have a quality goalkeeper — Logan (McLoughlin) is a very good goalkeeper. So it took something extra for them to get those goals today,” Weber said. “For us to play a quality team like Sunnyside, a 5A team, and come away with a win, it should be a lift to the kids, a real confidence booster.”

Salpointe is next scheduled to host Mountain View on Tuesday before playing Rincon/University, the No. 9-ranked team in 6A, at home next Wednesday.

Sunnyside is slated to first face the Rangers on Thursday at home.

Both teams have only five games scheduled before the state playoffs begin.


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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