May 11, 2014

It’s a family tradition

Gutierrez lives up to name as strong defender for title-hopeful Southeast

Isael Gutierrez has a family heritage of Southeast Whitfield soccer players — and defenders.

So it’s no wonder he excelled right away at the high school level.

The junior is a three-year starter at sweeper — yes, he started at the defense’s most important position as a freshman — and one of the biggest leaders on a Raiders side aiming for a return to the Class 4A state championship. Southeast earned a 1-0 win Friday against Statesboro and will travel Tuesday to play Johnson-Gainesville in the state semifinals, a round the Raiders have reached five times in the past seven seasons.

“He’s played just about every minute of every game I’ve been involved with him,” Southeast coach Kevin Kettenring said.

Gutierrez has two brothers, Jorge Gutierrez and Macario Gutierrez, who played at Southeast and were part of the 2008 team that reached the Class 3A state title match, which Lakeside-Dekalb won in penalty kicks. Jorge graduated in 2008 and Macario graduated in 2010. Jorge, like Isael, played sweeper and Macario played stopper.

“I was just born in the perfect environment,” said Isael, a Dalton native who started playing at age 3. “They taught me everything.”

Southeast (14-5-2) can thank Dalton for three of its losses this season, Oconee County for one and Northwest Whitfield for one. All three teams made the state playoffs — Dalton and Northwest in Class 4A and Oconee County in Class 3A — and Dalton’s Catamounts will play Spalding in the other 4A semifinals match. Dalton beat Southeast by a 5-0 result in last year’s state championship.

The Raiders, ranked eighth in the Eurosportscoreboard.com Class 4A coaches poll, have been just as impressive on defense during the playoffs as the Catamounts. Both teams have allowed just one score — Southeast in a 3-1 win against Columbus and Dalton in an 11-1 win against Sandy Creek — with Isael running the back line for the Raiders.

“He’s the one in the back that calls the shots,” Kettenring said. “He sees the entire field, so he has that kind of perspective. He directs midfielders, forwards, outside backs and outside midfielders.

“If you want to make a comparison to a quarterback, I guess that would be the closest thing.”

Kettenring touts Isael’s family ties to the sport and school as a major reason for his success.

“It’s not a given,” Kettenring said, “but it’s a neat process how these guys see the doors open and shut and know how to walk in. The Gutierrez legacy at Southeast has been defending.”

Southeast’s defensive scheme changes within a match.

At times, it could use a diamond shape with Isael at sweeper and Diego Nunez at stopper. At other times, it could be a triangle with Christian Gonzalez and Andrew Miranda as the outside defenders and Nunez in the middle. And other times Isael and the other three could be in a straight line trying to catch attackers offside.

“When you’re the last man, you can see the entire field,” said Isael, a member of The Daily Citizen’s 2013 All-Area Boys Soccer Team. “You need to be loud and be in their faces. You’re the last man before the keeper. I love playing the position.

“Andrew and Christian have played with me throughout middle school and in Dalton rec leagues. Diego and I are cousins, so it’s easy to communicate. The defense has grown up together.”

Since at Eastbrook Middle School, he always played sweeper. Maybe most impressive is the fact he started on varsity as a freshman, was a captain for a few games with then-coach Jamison Griffin and has been a captain each game his sophomore and junior seasons.

At a young age, he had the maturity of a senior.

“It’s difficult because you have to be mature at the moment,” Isael said. “You’re 15 o 16 and everyone else is 18. It’s tough but as a player, you live for those moments where you perform well.

“Being so young back then and having so few experiences in varsity, it was tough. I got used to it.”

And he has the personality for it. Rarely do the defenders get credit for a win. If it’s a clean sheet, the goalkeeper is the first name mentioned. On scores, praise goes to the attackers and midfield.

“There’s a lot more to it, and that’s where the defensive unit comes in,” Kettenring said. “He’s calm in the back, limits the other team’s opportunities and it’s not easy. It’s not a headline position. Not a lot of accolades or glory, but they sure do a lot of work.”

But Isael doesn’t care, which makes him perfect for the job. As long as the Raiders get “a clean sheet,” like in the quarterfinals win against Statesboro, he’s happy.

“I understand. The offense does get the credit,” he said.

“As the saying goes, ‘Offense sells tickets and defense wins championships.’”

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