Boys Soccer: United Undefeated and Ready to Unveil Magnum Opus
One More Run: Future of Toledo-Winlock Soccer Uncertain in Malunat’s Final Season
By Jordan Nailon
WINLOCK — Horst Malunat has been head honcho of United soccer for 17 years and he doesn’t hesitate to point out the most important years in the program’s history. According to the coach himself the turning point occurred when he took a two year sabbatical.
“Me quitting made the program better,” Malunat readily admitted. “I know it might sound weird.”
With an overall record of 183-90-8 as head coach of United since 2001, that sort of sentiment certainly merits qualification. The thing is, Malunat didn’t quit the program. He simply relegated himself to the lower ranks.
“Hugo (Molina) took it over and those two years I spent working with the youth and getting them excited and it was the best thing for the high school program was for me not to coach,” explained Malunat.
Just like his coaching style on the pitch, there was a particular method to Malunat’s apparent madness. He was setting himself up to mentor his oldest son, Andreas, and his extended peer group. More specifically, he was dropping down into the elementary school in order to spread his love for the beautiful game to another generation, and their time is now.
“I saw some kids who were very much interested in soccer but I knew that I was only coaching them two months out of the year and nobody was really developing them,” Malunat said. “I had guys like Ryan Votaw. He was a great athlete, did soccer and basketball but only touched the soccer ball in the spring otherwise he’s in the gym. I knew that I had to get kids playing more than just the two months but to do that I had to work with the youth. Get them at eight, nine, ten years old and get them excited to start working on their own.”
With Andreas and company now entering the home stretch of their senior year that experiment has been, by all measurements, a smashing success. Playing out of the 1A TriCo League the the Toledo-Winlock boys soccer squad has run up a record of 59-7-8 with three league titles and two district championships over the last four years. They’ve managed to qualify for state the last three years and made it to the quarterfinal round last season. This year, the team has run the table with a 12-0 league record after settling for ties in their four non-league tilts to start their penultimate campaign.
Malunat says the trick was simply to make the kids fall in love with the sport. The rest just kind of fell into place.
“I just couldn’t see myself banging my head against the wall for two months and just seeing them where they were at the end of the two months, seeing them leave and then seeing them come back and they’re back to where we started,” Malunat said. “These guys are watching Champions League, they’re watching Barcelona, they’re watching games on their own and they’re playing FIFA. It’s part of the air they breathe. It resonates with them, the game.”
When watching United play it’s readily apparent how much that dedication to honing their craft has paid off. They play a well-paced game that is fueled by spacing along with a cat-and-mouse offensive attack that is all too uncommon at the high school level. That United’s patented patient style of play is performed by a bunch of rural 2B kids in a combined program makes it all the more impressive.
Malunat has a special term for the turbo-charged style of see-ball kick-ball soccer that is so prevalent in the youth and prep ranks.
“I call it psycho soccer. Just kick it down and go, go, go, go. It’s very direct. To me that defeats the whole purpose of the game and that’s not very fun to watch,” lamented Malunat.
He noted that his preferred brand of soccer is more possession oriented and cerebral.
“It’s fun to watch how guys are running and they’re cutting the ball and looking for passes and seams. We’re opening up and then filling the space we just created. Just that tactical side. And with this team I can do that because they have the fundamentals,” said Malunat. “You know, Isaac Garibay, Andreas, and Gustavo (Barragan), and even Edgar (Barragan) is great this year, and Isaac Cruz, and Brandon Cruz, and Ivan Cibrian, and Alan (Contreras). They just understand the game on a different level where I couldn’t do this with some of the teams I had ten years ago. There’s just no way. So I’ve had to adapt what I do but this team, they can play that way.”
The formula has been fool proof so far this year as United has outscored their opponents 75-7. Malunat insists there is no secret sauce behind his team’s success. Rather, it’s a tribute to good old fashioned hard work.
“It’s just those fundamentals and offseason play. That’s the difference right there. When they were younger they got excited and so they continued to play not just the two months of the season but on their own,” Malunat insisted. “I don’t have to generate stuff. I don’t have to call all the parents. The parents are just there and they’re traveling and they’re running it and they’re getting out and they’re playing. That’s the difference with this group. They just want to play all the time. Not just for two months. All year long. Twelve months.”
While Malunat makes sure that most of the credit is heaped upon the players, he doled out some kudos and orange slices for the United parents as well.
“There’s lots of parents who bought into what I was doing and helped and supported that. Because you can have parents who don’t have the same vision as you do and they’re going to do their own thing. I had the Barragan’s, or Brandon Patching, or Randy Hall and they’re driving their kids down to Vancouver because they can see that, ‘Hey, this guy wants them to be better,’ and they’ve been committed to doing that.”
Malunat’s roots with the program date back to it’s time as Motown United back in the late 90s. The “Mo” was for Mossyrock. The “T” was for Toledo. The “O” was for Onalaska. The “W” was for Winlock. And the “N” was for Napavine. He took over for former head coach Rick Shepherd back in the early days of the Toledo-Winlock program and Shepherd has stuck around to assist as the goalie coach and in-game announcer.
It hasn’t all been sunshine and roses during his tenure, though. Back in 2014 the future of the program came down to a single vote by the Winlock School Board when there was a push to end all combined sports programs between the two schools.
“That was brutal. That was one of the points in my life where I thought, man, I’ve done all this work. I took time off. I made this program and developed the youth and got all of this parent buy-in. It’s a lot of work and they’re just going to dismantle it? Because there would have been no program. It would have been done,” recalled Malunat.
That’s when community engagement came in clutch for the team with a lively group of parents and supporters filling the boardroom. The combined program’s very first coach, Dan Godat, also pulled up a spot in the front row in order to put his weight behind United soccer.
With the vote tied 2-2 the deciding vote found the back of the net and paved the way for the sustained success that United has found in the second half of the decade.
“There was a lot of pent up anger on both sides. I just said, you know, whatever. If it’s over then it’s over and that’s fine but if it isn’t then it’s meant to be. But I thought it was over. I thought we were through,” Malunat remembered.
He says that moment was a fortifying one for the program. One might even be tempted to say it left the team truly united.
“You saw the two communities, at least soccer-wise, come together and you saw the kids come together and realize that this is important to them,” said Malunat. “That night changed our pathway. That really was a defining moment for our program. It could have ended there and I wouldn’t even be talking to you now. We wouldn’t have been undefeated. Nothing. We just would have been done.”
Having gone to high school in Vancouver before beginning his coaching career along the banks of the lower Columbia River he found the prep sports politics of Lewis County to be baffling.
“I’m not from this area so I’ve never understood the Toledo/Winlock thing. I’m don’t care what zip code you have or what side of the freeway you live on. I’m just coaching kids and it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” said Malunat, who had a collegiate and semi-pro playing career himself before taking up life as sideline prowler.
That standoff to save the program is not the only culture shock that Malunat suffered after moving to Toledo from Clark County. He remembers moving to a strange land where soccer was literally a foreign concept.
“I think a lot of people up here, they take baseball seriously, they do. And they take football and basketball seriously but soccer is kind of that outlier, in my opinion. When I came up here John Sanford, the coach at Toledo said to me, ‘Oh, you coach that communist sport.’ That was the first thing out of his mouth and I was like, okay, I just went back in time up here in Lewis County. I went back to the Cold War,” said Malunat.
Over the years, though, he says he’s seen plenty of positive change in the futbol landscape.
“I think soccer, since 2001, has changed. I think more people are aware of it. The college adding a team is huge. I think locally Lewis County has gotten better and understands the game a little more than when I first came up,” explained Malunat, who used to coach the girls team in Toledo as well as the women’s team at Centralia College. “If I had a small influence on that then that’s pretty cool. When I first got here it was the communist sport and nobody is saying it’s the communist sport anymore.”
Thanks to his son, Malunat’s relationship with his players extends beyond the parameters of the the pitch.
“They’ve grown up together. I’ve had Gustavo and Alan over at my house for the last ten years hanging out and having sleepovers. And Brian Wood, and Hayden Farbo. All those kids come over all the time. I think it’s good because when I talk to them I’m not Dad but they still see me as that type of figure,” said Malunat.
He added that he’s had plenty of teams that carved out a special place in his mind over the years, but when you know the kids on such a personal level it’s stiff competition for top billing.
“Before Andreas got there I really enjoyed that group with Adair Garibay. That was a fun group. I enjoyed the group with Paul Panchenko. But this group, they are really cohesive and part of it is that these guys, Winlock or Toledo, if you saw them you’d never know they are two different schools because they just have great chemistry,” explained Malunat. “Sometimes they just get along too well and I have to get on them. Sometimes the focus just isn’t there because sometimes the slumber party isn’t just after practice. It’s during practice… Sometimes it can be a weakness because they just get along so well that all they want to do is tickle-giggle.”
A well-coached son, Andreas Malunat agreed with his father’s assessment.
“It’s really kind of weird because all of these guys will sleep over at my house and stuff and sometimes he’ll just yell at us or something, and every once in awhile he’ll bring up, ‘Hey, no slamming doors at 2 a.m. tonight,’ or whatever. It’s really funny that he’s our coach but they respect him and it’s good,” said the senior midfielder who has helped to pace a potent United offense this year. “We have our arguments and stuff but sometimes I need to not act like he’s not my dad and act like he’s the coach and respect him a little bit more. It goes both ways, but he’s a great coach and I’m glad to have him as my coach.”
With Horst Malunat set to retire at the end of the season, along with 11 seniors and one foreign exchange student set to depart from the 19-player roster, everyone around the program agrees that the future of United is uncertain. Malunat went so far as to call it an “enigma” and a “mystery.”
For the time-being though, the United bunch are worried about one thing only — Playing their preferred brand of soccer. They will open up the district playoffs with a home game at 7 p.m. in Winlock on Monday against Montesano.
“We’ve got to get through Districts and starting out at home is awesome. It’s fun to have a big crowd,” said the United coach. “We haven’t lost (in Winlock) in three years. Like I told the guys let’s keep winning here and if we take first in districts then we would host the first round (of state) and the quarterfinal game. Let’s bring those Seattle private schools down to us and let’s see them beat us on our field where nobody has beat us in three years. Let’s bring them down. Game on. That’s what I say.”
Ever the pragmatic coach Malunat added that no matter how things end up for his squad this year he hopes the mark he’s made over the last two decades will last at least as long as any dust in the trophy case.
“I’m kind of, whether it’s an ambassador for the game or not, but if kids get excited and they understand something that you’re doing then that makes it worth it,” Malunat said. “Whether we win a state title or not that’s secondary to just helping the kids understand things and enjoy it. I think that’s important too.”