IOWA FALLS, Iowa — It’s almost impossible to decipher how Iowa Falls-Alden/AGWSR has become one of the best boys’ soccer teams in Iowa until practice grinds to a halt.
The Cadets (18-0) have a limited varsity roster comprising casual small-town athletes, and if their errant shots at the Iowa Falls Rugby Fields sail over a short tree line, balls wind up on railroad tracks less than a half-mile from an ethanol plant.
But as the team stands in formation, waiting for instructions about a postseason opponent, its superstar plays keep-up and shows off dazzling dribbling skills for his own amusement.
Marcos Vila is an exchange student from Madrid, Spain, and his soccer ability has made the Cadets a Class 2A sensation this spring.
“I knew nothing about Iowa Falls,” Vila said before Tuesday’s practice, “and I had to do some research on Iowa when I got my host family, because I didn’t know where it was.
“But I knew I wanted to play soccer. I was planning on playing soccer wherever I went. I’m happy it was here.”
Vila tied a national high school record on May 11 by scoring a hat trick in nine consecutive games. He finished the regular season with 52 goals in 17 games, the top single-season mark since the Iowa High School Athletic Association began tracking boys’ soccer statistics across the state in 2011.
Perhaps more important than the individual marks, the 17-year-old standout has IFA on the brink of qualifying for its first state tournament. Substate finals start Saturday across the state.
“Soccer is still just not a very popular sport locally,” IFA head coach Greg Lascheid said. “But the biggest benefit out of this season — besides the seniors having this as a lifelong memory — is that maybe Marcos and this success can ignite some passion amongst our spectators to support the game.”
Vila starts in an attacking midfield role for the Cadets, but athleticism and passing touch allow him to move anywhere on the field. That quality especially benefits senior forwards Logan Steelman and Logan Ward. They were integral pieces on last season’s 12-9 team, with Ward scoring a team-high 15 goals and Steelman adding six as a secondary option.
Entering Saturday’s game with Hudson (12-4), Steelman has 31 goals and Ward owns 10. Vila has been credited with 26 assists.
“(Vila) has absolutely incredible footwork and is able to get in and out of cuts very smoothly,” Benton head coach Will Stockman said. “He’s a very aggressive player and puts himself in good scoring positions. And his teammates do well at finding him and giving him chances.”
Benton (16-4) is also in the 2A substate finals and has suffered just one loss in its last 13 games. That was a 6-1 defeat which featured four goals from Vila.
“This is my sixth year of coaching and I would put him right up there with some of the best players I have seen,” Stockman said.
Exchange students in Iowa often make their greatest athletic impact on the soccer field. In 2015, Central DeWitt got 30 goals from Dutch striker Ferre Devos and advanced all the way to the 2A title game. IFA has three exchange students in its lineup, although defender Anton Mohwinkel plans to fly home to Germany before the state tournament finishes.
Vila says he’s been a lifelong soccer player and most recently played forward for youth club Alcobendas Levitt in Madrid.
We play against the kids our age at Real Madrid, and they’re better than us, obviously, but we can keep up with them and we’re in the same league,” Vila said. “I wasn’t expecting the same level in Iowa. But it’s not just me that carries this team. I try to teach what I know and work hard. We have good players on this team.”
IFA is enjoying its dream offensive season — outscoring opponents 109-9 — but Lascheid, a former statistician and color commentator for the Cadets, is having to get creative to find Vila space to operate. Defenses have adjusted with physical, packed-in lines to control the relentless attack. Mercy rule games have given way to 1-0 finishes.
“There had been rumors about what Marcos was doing with indoor soccer for several months,” Lascheid said. “Then I saw him dribble through about six guys the first time I saw him at an open gym. I thought, ‘OK, he might be the real deal.’ But the first two games of the year proved it.
“Now, teams game-plan around him and put two or three guys on him. He still finds his way through often enough.”
Vila was also a 1A state tennis qualifier in his first year playing the sport and joined IFA’s cross country and basketball teams.
Listed as a senior, he is a junior by Spanish standards and is interested in returning to the U.S. to play Division I soccer after his final year of high school back home. Drake has already expressed interest. Vila is keeping his options open, but he would welcome a return to Iowa.
“I’m going to miss the people the most, because they are really, really nice,” Vila said. “The biggest fear I had coming to the U.S. was about making friends and not being able to hang out. But that was easy. Everyone has been so nice.”