When a reporter referred to Axel Rodriguez-Canal, the sophomore forward for the Mattituck High School boys soccer team, as “Kaan light,” the Tuckers’ coach, Will Hayes, corrected him.
“He’s different,” Hayes said of Rodriguez-Canal, adding, “He’s more of a hybrid between Kaan and Mario.”
The players Hayes was referring to are Kaan Ilgin and Mario Arreola, the two standout players who led the Tuckers to the New York State Class B championship last year in their senior season. So, given the comparison, that is saying a lot of Rodriguez-Canal, a young talent from Guatemala.
“His work ethic is incredible,” Hayes said. “I mean, he does not give up. He’s definitely a fighter. He goes in for every ball, but he has a lot of dribbling ability.”
And scoring ability. Through Mattituck’s first six games, Rodriguez-Canal had struck for 11 goals.
“It’s not easy scoring 11 goals in six games,” he acknowledged.
Rodriguez-Canal played for Mattituck’s junior varsity team last year, which was more a reflection of a varsity roster loaded with talent than anything else. He registered 22 goals for the junior varsity Tuckers before being called up to the varsity team for the playoffs. He scored his first varsity goal in a state semifinal.
Dan Fedun, a senior right winger, recalled a scrimmage last year against Sayville at Diamond in the Pines in which Rodriguez-Canal launched a bomb from outside the penalty area. “It almost goes upper 90,” Fedun said. “He has some talent.”
Joe Tardif, a senior forward, said he thought at the time that Rodriguez-Canal’s goal in the state semifinal was a fluke. “I didn’t really know,” Tardif said. “I never saw him play, but seeing him this year is amazing. He’s just so strong on the ball and his center of gravity is so low, and he just keeps the ball at his feet at all times.”
And when the ball is not at his feet, Rodriguez-Canal can jump to meet it with his head.
At 5 foot 8, Rodriguez-Canal wouldn’t seem like an aerial threat, but he headed in two almost identical goals off crosses served by Fedun and Chris Waggoner within 3 minutes 5 seconds of each other early in a 3-2 overtime win over rival Center Moriches last Thursday. They were his first goals of the season from headers.
Height isn’t everything when it comes to heading.
“You know, it’s all about form and positioning,” Hayes said. “The balls that he headed were absolutely inch perfect.”
Asked to explain his two headed goals in a penalty area packed with taller opponents, Rodriguez-Canal told reporters, “I just know where I got to be and where the ball’s going to be.”
Rodriguez-Canal also mentioned that prior to the game Arreola had given him a tip about where to position himself for headers, and the advice paid off.
Rodriguez-Canal, who put all four of his shots on goal, was grateful that Tardif scored the game-winner 3:01 into overtime. That is because a penalty kick by Rodriguez-Canal early in the second half was saved nicely by Deny Amaya.
Rodriguez-Canal played last Thursday with an ailing ankle, but that wasn’t going to keep him off the field.
“He wants to play all the time,” Hayes said. “School is just so he can play soccer.”