One of the best players in Glenwood Springs High School soccer’s long history accomplished a first under veteran coach Wayne Smith Wednesday, as standout senior midfielder Leo Mireles signed with Division II Colorado Mesa University, becoming the first DII player under Smith’s guidance. The signing comes one year after Smith sent his first player ever — Alonso Pacheco — to the collegiate level at DIII Elmhurst College.
Mireles earned the 4A Western Slope League co-player of the year award in his senior season, as well as a first-team selection, and earned first team all-state after leading the Demons to the 4A state semifinals in a year in which the senior midfielder scored 14 goals and added 18 assists. For his career, Mireles — who played all four years on varsity — finished with 30 goals and 31 assists, marking one of the best varsity career’s in Glenwood history.
“It was amazing to get those awards,” Mireles said. “At the beginning of the year, I didn’t believe that I would get those awards, but after the year I was proud of myself because I worked so hard and things were starting to come together. My goal was to take our team far into the playoffs, so to be able to accomplish those goals and to get those awards was unbelievable.
“When it comes to my standing in program history, I don’t really put much thought into that. That’s for other people to discuss,” Mireles added. “I don’t like talking about myself in that regard; I don’t like to label myself like that. That said, I definitely worked hard for it. It just feels really good to hear people say that about me.”
Now, Mireles heads to the collegiate level with the Mavericks, allowing him to stay close to home, while also breaking new barriers for the Glenwood program.
“It just means so much,” said Mireles. “It means so much to the program and to my teammates. It shows my teammates that they don’t need to go to Denver all the time for exposure in soccer, and the style of play that Wayne likes to play as a coach works.”
One of the best midfielders in the state, in terms of possession and pushing the play forward for Glenwood, Mireles set the school record for assists in a career with 31 and played an integral part in the Demons’ deep state playoff run last fall. With the ball routinely on his left boot, Mireles made players around him better, all while remaining an unselfish player.
Unlike other soccer players in the valley, Mireles remained local throughout his four years, playing local club soccer with Glenwood Springs, making a trip to Europe with Scandia United. That local development showed not only the underclassmen in the varsity program at Glenwood that a collegiate scholarship can be achieved here in the valley through soccer, but also the young kids in the valley playing youth soccer. Smith was quick to add that Mireles took advantage of every single opportunity offered to him throughout his career, allowing him to succeed and grow as a player to what he is now.
“We’ve now proven that it’s possible; it’s a real achievable dream,” Smith said. “That’s what we want to do here is develop good, young men and talented soccer players. That’s what we set out to do early on here and it took some time, but now we’re sending kids to college to play soccer and we’re having success as a program. That’s huge for us. The success we had last season as a program was key for us, and hopefully that opens up some doors for more opportunities for younger kids in our program.”
The success last season was part of a long-term progression that saw the Demons improve from 7-8 in 2016 to 9-6 in 2017 before putting it all together for a program-best 13-5-1 in 2018, culminating in a trip to the 4A state semifinals at Legacy Stadium at Cherry Creek High School. At the center of that was Mireles, who played within the system set in place by Smith and his assistant coaches, leading to loads of success as a team.
“He’s just such a creative midfielder,” Smith said. “He’s the type of player you want to have. I’ve been quoted as saying that talent is overrated; it’s what you do with that talent. It’s how you apply it to the team.
“The one thing I always loved about Leo is that he’s humble in a sense,” Smith added. “Obviously, he knows he’s a great player, but he is such a great fit for the team and the style of play that we look to achieve. He’s not a showboat or a ball-hog or anything like that; he understands what our system is, implements it and fits really well into it because he’s the guy that creates a lot of our attacking stuff.”
Despite all of the talent on the field for the Demons last season, and with the attack starting and often ending with Mireles, the senior captain was quick to point out it was much more than just talent for Glenwood last season. It was discipline, and that should help the future Maverick succeed at the collegiate level under CMU coach Todd Padgett.
“In previous years we didn’t really have that discipline from our senior leaders, and that’s something we aimed to change last year,” Mireles said. “That discipline was the difference against high-level teams, and that really helped carry us to the semifinals.”
Following a great senior season and a tremendous career at Glenwood, Mireles said the decision to head to CMU under Padgett was easy, largely due to the style of play, which is similar to what Glenwood plays under Smith. Having a chance to play so close to home where he can play in front of his mother Maria, and sister Sofia, was key.
“Their style of play was a big selling point,” said Mireles, who went to ID camps at CMU and had a chance to get a good feel for the Maverick program. “When I was down there the coaches told me how other programs in the RMAC (Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) like to play long ball and just kick and run, whereas CMU plays wide and possess the ball a lot. That’s the style I like to play, so it made a lot of sense. Having it be close to home was very important too; I love that.”
Mireles’s role in the first year isn’t quite clear at this point, but the Glenwood senior — who aspires to study something in the medical field at CMU — has a goal of working into the first team under Padgett. Mireles joins a talented CMU program that finished 13-4-5 last season. But if the last four years of Mireles’s time with Glenwood are any indication of what he can achieve at the collegiate level, it won’t be a surprise if the skilled midfielder achieves his freshman goal quickly and has an impact on the 2019 Mavericks.