Though Ronald Medrano Williams has spent most of his life in his soccer-crazed birthplace, the Costa Rican dual citizen first fell in love with fútbol in his mother’s homeland, where the sport is regularly drowned out by basketball, baseball and the other football.
It was around age 6, living with his mom in Baton Rouge, La. — where nothing eclipses Saturday nights at LSU’s famed Death Valley — when Medrano Williams said he seriously fell in love with soccer.
Then, splitting time between divorced parents, he moved back to Costa Rica a few years later and decided to stay for good — for his dad and for soccer.
“Me and my dad, we had a very close bond, and in Costa Rica, soccer is a very big deal,” Medrano Williams said. “It’s the biggest sport, not like in the U.S., and I was getting all the support.”
Medrano Williams learned everything he knows about the sport in Costa Rica, developing his soccer skills enough to eventually make the under-15 and under-17 national teams.
Now 17, Medrano Williams is back in the United States, the final piece of a Cal Poly men’s soccer recruiting class that also includes three All-Americans and two Gatorade state players of the year.
This week, the goal-scoring forward is in San Jose as a late addition trying out for the U.S. under-20 national team, but he said even if he makes the team, he’ll skip next fall’s tournament commitments so he can start his Mustangs career.
“I really want to focus on the school, on the team because we have a lot of expectations this season to win our conference and beat our rivals,” Medrano Williams said.
Medrano Williams will be joined this fall by fellow incoming freshmen forwards Karson Payton (Provo, Utah) and Justin Hill (Boise Idaho), midfielders George Malki (Scottsdale, Ariz.) and Nolan Moore (New Westminster, B.C.) and defenders Connor Drechsler (Temecula) and Chris Fisher (Menlo Park).
Malki was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Arizona and is one of three Cal Poly signees to be selected for the ESPN Rise Winter All-America team. Malki is the only first-team honoree.
Drechsler and Fisher were both selected to the third team, and Hill was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Idaho.
They’re already looking forward to home dates with UCLA on Sept. 17 and Big West Conference rival UC Santa Barbara on Oct. 27, the highlights of a Cal Poly schedule that was released Thursday.
All the recruits except Medrano Williams signed with the Mustangs in February, but Cal Poly coach Paul Holocher didn’t see the Costa Rican play until he was coaching a U.S. Olympic Development Program team in an exhibition against Medrano Williams’ club squad in San Jose, Costa Rica, later that month.
“He came on, and I just remember this very, very fast movement across the field up top,” said Holocher, who was assisting the ODP team in the offseason. “It was super quick, just this dynamic run, and I just saw him blaze by two or three players. I was like, ‘Wow, that kid’s got some speed.’
“He scored a goal after that half and the rest was just a matter of watching him a little closer and finding out what kind of young man he was.”
Medrano Williams said he’d always wanted to return to the United States for college. He had been in contact with a couple coaches, but decided immediately after meeting Holocher that he wanted to go to Cal Poly and committed in April.
Though Medrano Williams did not score in 30 minutes Thursday as the U.S. under-20 team topped the San Jose Earthquakes of the MLS 4-0 in an exhibition, Medrano Williams’ specialty is scoring goals.
He had 64 in six years with his club team Liga Deportiva Alajuelense. He also had more than 40 during his prep career as a captain at St. Peter’s High.
“I’m a good scorer,” Medrano Williams said. “I like to score goals, and I’m a leader. I’ll find ways to help the team win and do anything for the team to win.”
Said Holocher: “He’s got great pace, and a tremendous work rate, he’s willing to track and defend … He makes a lot of great runs that are critical for a forward to make. He doesn’t wait around for the ball.”
Cal Poly already has another standout forward from Costa Rica, senior David Zamora, who led the team with seven goals last season.
Incidentally, Zamora played for Deportivo Saprissa, the archrival club of Medrano Williams’s L.D. Alajuelense, before he joined Cal Poly. Club allegiances aside, Medrano Williams expects to get along great with his compatriot, and Holocher said he could fight his way into the starting lineup alongside Zamora.
“Every freshman adjusts to the speed and play when they go to college,” Holocher said. “But I think that will be less of a concern for Ronald, who has already played at a high level.”