As the Concord boys’ soccer team’s offensive leader, Jonny Bernal didn’t know what to expect out of a new coach as he entered his senior season.
Todd Tinsley, who was named the Spiders’ head coach last spring, didn’t know if Bernal would be open to his defensive-minded, ball-control coaching style.
Not only has the new system made Bernal a more complete player, it has also made the Spiders a more complete team.
Instead of relying on Bernal’s quickness and dribbling abilities as the main source of offense, the Spiders have become more balanced, much to Tinsley’s delight. After mustering a 2-2 tie with first-place China Grove Carson on Oct. 16, Concord (14-5-1, 10-3-1 South Piedmont through Oct. 20) was in good position to earn its fifth playoff appearance in the past six years.
The 3A state tournament is scheduled to start Oct. 29.
Bernal has been a varsity player for four years. He played in just three games as a freshman when Concord finished seventh in the South Piedmont 3A.
As a sophomore, Bernal helped Concord to a second place finish in the conference by scoring 16 goals for a team that finished 13-6-1. His season highlight was scoring a game-winning goal against Cox Mill in the final minute. The Spiders lost to Weddington in the first round of the state playoffs.
By the time he was a junior, Bernal emerged as one of the top scoring threats in the league. His teammates recognized him as such, too, often counting on him to shoulder the load of the scoring.
Concord posted a 15-5-1 record and reached the 3A state tournament largely due to Bernal’s output. He led the Spiders with 23 goals and 11 assists, and was named all-conference. Concord lost a first-round game to Northwest Cabarrus.
Bernal didn’t expect much to change for his senior year until Tinsley was hired to replace coach Matthew Bennett in the spring. Tinsley was on the Concord faculty and was familiar with Bernal and the rest of his teammates.
“This season was pretty tough getting a new coach,” said Bernal. “At the beginning of season, players wouldn’t communicate with him. They were surprised by the situation. It’s been a tough ride but he’s brought us along together.”
Tinsley acknowledges Bernal’s talents as a goal scorer. But relying on one player didn’t fit into his scheme of ball-possession and keeping other players involved.
“He has the ability to dribble through a whole team,” said Tinsley. “That’s the way they played in the past. The team I inherited was ‘kick the ball to Jonny, let him do his thing.’
“He’s such a special kid because he’s a senior and had a new coach coming in. He comes in as our leader. I wanted them to play a different style of soccer. But in the end, he’s your guy.”
Bernal plays mostly forward but can drop back as a center midfielder to help distribute the ball. He attributes his quickness and ball-handling skills to natural ability and wishes he was more proficient with his shooting accuracy.
Bernal opened the season where he left off last year. Eleven of his team-leading 17 goals came in Concord’s first eight games.
But over the last quarter of the regular season, the bulk of the Spiders’ offense has been spread to other players. Sophomore Esteban “Gordo” Bernal, Jonny’s brother, scored two of his four goals this season in a 4-0 victory over East Rowan on Sept. 25.
Second-leading scorer Austin Hernandez (11 goals) scored in a 1-0 win over Hickory Ridge on Oct. 14 and scored along with Jonny Bernal in the 2-2 tie at Carson on Oct. 16. Junior Eli Goodman scored twice in a 3-2 defeat of Northwest Cabarrus on Oct. 7.
“Last year, a lot of people depended on me,” said Bernal. “This year, some of the people on the team like Imer (Avila), Austin, and Eli they have been scoring more. They took some pressure off me.”
A soft-spoken person, Bernal wants to attend community college for a couple years before transferring to a four-year school. Tinsley says Bernal has college soccer talent and the coach is attempting to generate interest from collegiate coaches.