Juan Pablo Irrera has had one of the most spectacular careers of any Cougar soccer player.
At least that’s the opinion of coach John Klein.
The 26-year-old forward leads Columbia College with 10 goals and nine assists this season, but that’s not what makes Irrera such a special player.
“When you look at J.P.’s stats, they’re not unbelievable this year,” Klein said. “But J.P. scores unbelievable goals and creates unbelievable opportunities.”
The Cougars will be looking to Irrera for some scoring support as they take on William Jewell College in the second round of the Region V playoffs Wednesday. The game is set to begin at 7 p.m. at Owens Soccer Stadium.
Klein, who played two seasons at Duke (1983-84) and two at Saint Louis University (1985-86), followed by an eight-year professional career, said he thinks Irrera is the craftiest player in the NAIA right now.
“The things he does with his feet, when the ball is at his feet, are things that I could not even imagine doing when I was a player,” Klein said. “I don’t even know if he thinks about them. His feet just make it happen.”
His footwork with the ball not only gives Irrera a chance to score but draws the attention of the defense. Klein said the diversion opens his teammates up for a pass or an open shot at the net.
Irrera said most of what he does on the field comes without much thought. Irrera said he started working on his dribbling and ball handling skills early in life.
“I learned how to walk when I was 10 months old because I followed a balloon,” Irrera said. “So I stood up and kicked the balloon.”
Since that time Irrera has spent much of his life around a soccer ball. By the age of 2, Irrera was attending soccer camps to hone his skills. The Buenos Aires native explained that soccer skills are taught at a young age in Argentina and other South American countries.
Klein said he only remembers one or two games Irrera missed because of an injury. In a regular-season match against McKendree College, Irrera was sent in on a breakaway. The keeper charged out of the net at Irerra. Klein said most players would back off and let the keeper play the ball.
“J.P. continued his run and was completely upended and flipped over and landed flat on his back,” Klein said. “I thought his back was broken. I really thought his back was broken. He’d already been having some back issues, and I didn’t think he was getting up.”
After staying on the ground for two or three minutes, Klein said Irrera got up and played the rest of the game, continuing to be an offensive threat.
The Cougars will rely on selfless contributions like Irrera’s if they wish to return to the NAIA national tournament. Klein said he was surprised that No. 7 Lindenwood University was eliminated from the Region V tournament by McKendree, but that the road to a regional championship and automatic bid to the national tournament is still difficult to travel.
“I don’t think one team of the remaining group is weaker than the others,” Klein said. “Each of these teams have proven that they can get results against some of the best teams in the nation.”