Central defenders in soccer often go unnoticed to casual followers of the sport.
But Windsor Forest defender Erik Ulloa has the ability to take over a game from the back line.
Ulloa had a year to remember for the Knights, as the junior captain helped lead his team to the Region 3-3A regular-season and tournament titles. Windsor Forest advanced to the second round of the playoffs, where it lost to Pace Academy 3-2 in a hard-fought overtime match.
Ulloa is the Savannah Morning News’ Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
He ended the season with 10 goals and six assists for the Knights, who finished with a 17-2-1 record. But his impact on a match can’t be measured by offensive numbers. Ulloa showed off his skills on defense, with a steady presence that frustrated opponents. He often took the ball away from an offensive player and quickly transitioned into soccer’s equivalent of a fast break — helping guide the Knights’ polished, athletic attack.
Ulloa said his most memorable moment this year was the region tournament championship game against Islands. The teams played 80 minutes of scoreless regulation and 10 minutes of scoreless overtime before the Knights prevailed on penalty kicks. Ulloa, who takes the free kicks for the Knights, had several attempts that just missed, and one that was knocked away by an amazing save by Islands keeper Garett Burke.
“I thought we showed a lot of character in that match,” said Ulloa, who was named the Region 3-3A most valuable player. “It wasn’t about one individual. That game was total team effort.”
Windsor Forest coach Cam Turner said he plays Ulloa on the back line because it’s the best fit for his team, but his star has the ability to play anywhere on the pitch. Turner coached Francisco Moyer, Ulloa’s older brother who was the Savannah Morning News player of the year in 2012.
“Erik could play anywhere he wants to,” Turner said. “He could be the best midfielder or the best forward in the area if he played those positions. He has all the attributes of being a great soccer player. This year we came back into 3A and started rivalries with Islands and Savannah Arts. Erik showed a lot of leadership on and off the field to help us earn that No. 1 seed and take the region title.”