International soccer was a good learning experience for Eriq Zavaleta, and the Westfield High School senior hopes that what he brings to the table can help his teammates.

“I think I bring a lot of experience from playing in different countries and playing in bigger games, such as representing the United States on the 17-and-under world Cup in Nigeria,’’ he said. “I learned many details to help me become a better player to help my team.’’

Zavaleta, as polite and humble and as easy-going as he is smooth gliding across a soccer field, nonchalantly said he believes that the international competition was tougher than anything he’ll see this season.

That’s not a knock on soccer here in the States, let alone the Indiana high school tournament. He was simply stating what he believes is a fact.

“I was able to travel to many different countries and play the best competition in those countries,’’ said Zavaleta, who’s USA team lost to Italy in the Round of 16 of the World Cup. “There’s nothing like that experience and competition.’’

After spending the past two high school soccer seasons with U.S. national teams, Zavaleta returned to Westfield with hopes of helping the Shamrocks do what they did his freshmen year. That was to win the school’s first boys soccer sectional.

“It would be neat to get it done again this year,’’ he said. “It can happen. We have the potential to go far in the tournament if the guys believe and set their minds to doing it. I hope I can help them achieve such a goal.

“I don’t set individual goals; I set team goals. I want our team to win the sectional and the regional, and anything after that would be a  merely dream come true. I want this team to be, well, I want us to be a historical team. And I want to be the leader.’’

Westfield has never won a regional in boys soccer.

As a freshman in 2007, the talented forward had 25 goals and nine assists. He was named the north area’s Player of the Year by The Indianapolis Star. He’s also a two-time Parade All-American.

Zavaleta, who also excels in the classroom and will play collegiately at Indiana University,  said that academics are very important to him. He wants to get an education no matter where soccer might take him after high school.

He said his goal after high school would be to compete on the 20-and-under USA team and play in the World Cup in Columbia.

“Soccer is very physical. A lot of people underestimate how tough it really is. Scores are low because of great defense. It’s a very demanding sport, but I love it,’’ Eriq said. “I can’t get enough of it.’’

Don’t be fooled by his low-key demeanor off the field. He’s quite competitive for someone so soft spoken, someone who knows the importance of a firm handshake and looking you in the eye when he speaks.

He’s very humble, which he says he learned from his father, Carlos Zavaleta. Eriq was born in Arizona; his dad, a small business man who owns The Indiana Soccer Academy, in the Westfield Business Park near the intersection of Hwy 31 and Hwy 32, is from El Salvador.

Zavaleta gets his fire for the game and his confidence naturally. He comes from a soccer family.  His father and uncle, Greg Vanney, both played professional soccer.

Carlos Zavaleta started playing professionally at the age of 14. He played in the States until he was maybe 30 years old, Eriq said. His dad played collegiately at UCLA and then with pro teams in Los Angeles and Arizona. His uncle played for the LA Galaxy and also was a member of the USA national team.

Is pro soccer in Eriq Zavaleta’s future?

He said it’s his ultimate goal is to play on the USA national team and play in the World Cup.

“If it’s meant to be and I reach my goal, then it would be a great honor.  “I’m just lucky to be able to say I have a chance,’’ he said, proudly . . . and in a very humble manner.

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