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In the past two years, Jonathan Nicacio has transformed himself into one of the top young soccer players in Southwest Florida.

He’s a player that’s now getting widespread notice, through his dominant stretch with the Tampa Bay United Rowdies Soccer Club of the Elite Club National League (ECNL). On loan to that club for eight games recently, Nicacio scored an eye-popping 14 goals and four assists. He also recently led his East Naples Middle School team to a county championship, and has been a stellar performer for the Florida Fire Juniors club for several years now.

“Jonathan had been our radar for the last 12 months or so,” Tampa Bay United Rowdies director of soccer Kelvin Jones said. “Our coach has gone up against Jonathan a lot and kept telling me ‘Kelvin, you’ve got to see this kid, he’s a real game changer.’ We had him come guest with us as a designated player, and he immediately showed us what he was capable of.”

Nicacio showed he wasn’t just a goal scorer, a fact that impressed Jones even more than the scoring ability itself.

“He’s big, he’s strong and he’s fast,” Jones said. “Soccer is a game with a lot of work and a lot of running. He’s not just a talented kid, but he’s got a great work ethic and a great attitude. He hustles and defends, and when the other guys on the team see one of the guys up front defending like he does, it’s infectious. He’s a great goal scorer, no question, but he’s willing to do the work defensively, which is so important.”

Nicacio, 13, said he enjoys challenging himself against tougher competition, saying the teams he saw while playing in Tampa were a step above teams he’s seen in the past.

“Any time you play for a new team, it’s a new experience,” he said. “You’re playing around a new team and seeing teams from a different league. You have to adjust to that league’s play style, because every league is different. You want to see how you measure up to tougher teams. I truly believe I can play at a higher level, I just need more experience.”

Florida Fire Juniors coach Edgar Roush has worked with Nicacio the last two seasons, and the difference in his game from then to now is striking.

“Confidence is one of the biggest things I’ve seen from when I first saw him,” Roush said. “He’s realized what he’s capable of. He’s a goal scorer and a game changer. The athleticism has always been there. He had his growth spurt and kept his quickness. He never had that awkward phase that some kids have. He does a lot of cross training, plays basketball on the side, things like that. He’s a real physical specimen for his age.”

 

Jones and Roush both agreed Nicacio will benefit from playing better competition and gaining more exposure.

“When great players begin to dominate the competition, they often get bored,” Roush said. “I’d like him to play in competitive leagues where there are no ‘gimme’ games. You have to be at your best every time out.”

Jones said he’d love to see Nicacio play more for the Rowdies, but not for too long.

“Sure we’d love to have him play for us, but the main thing I want for him is to keep progressing with his soccer,” he said. “I think he’s the type of kid that could play for a national team someday. The skill is there, the work ethic is there. It’s hard to predict the future, but Jonathan is a special kind of player who should continue to get better.”

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