All season long, be it in practice or under the stadium lights for a district match, there was an underlying confidence within the Plano West boys soccer team that senior Connor Brown would find a way to score.
And if Brown wasn’t the one sending the ball into the back of the net, he’d have his fingerprints on the assist that set up one of his teammates to follow through all the same.
Brown was the tip of the spear for a West side that enjoyed a resurgence in 2020, working itself firmly into playoff contention and going for blow for blow with the 9-6A elite before having its bid at a postseason berth cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The rest of the conference took notice — voting Brown as district MVP to cap the senior forward’s soccer career on an award-winning note.
“I was honestly shocked,” Brown said. “I didn’t think it was a possibility, considering some of the other teams and players in our district, plus it being as big a district as it is. I was really excited and thankful.”
Brown had 11 goals and eight assists to his ledger when the Wolves’ season abruptly concluded with two matches remaining in the regular season. One of a select group of players in 9-6A to eclipse double-digit goals scored, Brown’s raw production was there as a junior when he posted 12 goals. But the sixth-place Wolves were still harnessing their identity under then-first-year head coach Brennon Satre, and Brown, who was working his way back from a fractured kneecap sustained as a sophomore, hadn’t fully realized the extent of his skill set.
As a result, the forward was recognized as an all-district honorable mention selection — something that stuck with Brown during the offseason.
“I was disappointed by that. I felt like I deserved more and that became a big motivator for me,” Brown said.
“I remember at last year's team banquet when I announced Connor's name to recognize him as part of honorable mentions team, there was a moment I could see he was not satisfied and wanted more,” Satre added.
Already a very organized and detail-oriented person by nature — Brown noted that his closet is color-coded — that attention to detail is central to his approach on the soccer pitch. Satre noted that Brown was the type to wake up Saturday morning to go work on his finishing because he missed one opportunity in the game the night before.
“It’s always been that way. I’ve always been sort of an OCD perfectionist,” Brown said. “During warm-ups before the game is probably where I do it the most — either shots that I miss in warm-ups or from a previous game, I’ll specifically do 10 times before I go and do the little keep-away before the game actually starts.”
Be it a desire to improve on that honorable mention from 2019 or help the Wolves chase the ghost of West’s 2017 playoff team — a side the seniors, who were freshmen at the time, look up to fondly — Brown’s mentality heading into his senior season was apparent to his teammates.
"Connor came in this year with hunger. We were all tired of not making the playoffs,” said London Kronberg, West senior captain.
The Wolves improved their performance across the board in 2020, with Brown at the heart of it. He retained his natural scoring ability but showcased an improved touch in finding his opponents in the box. After logging just two assists as a junior, both of which came in the preseason, Brown upped his assist count to eight as a senior.
“Most of my assists came from me getting shooting opportunities and dumping it off to the side for my teammate for a tap-in,” Brown said. “Up until this year, that wasn’t something I had done a lot of — I would usually just take the shot. That helped us because I wouldn’t have made a lot of those shots and they did a great job finishing those tap-ins.
“It goes back to having a person in every position that’s solid and someone who I know I can rely on.”
Brown’s impact shined when it mattered most as well — scoring or assisting on goals in 10 of West’s 11 district matches, production that helped the Wolves rise to 5-3-4 and third place in conference play when the season abruptly concluded.
“He makes good runs and seems to be in the right place at the right time, every time,” said Randy Bond, West senior. “In practice, you can lose track of him for a split second and then he'll just show up out of nowhere and score."
Not having that bounce-back year punctuated with a playoff berth was tough for Brown and the Wolves, whose senior class was in position to qualify for the postseason for the first time. They wanted to halt the program’s brief playoff drought and achieve the same heights their predecessors did in 2017. They wanted to do right by Kronberg, who suffered a torn ACL early in the 2020 season.
"After tearing my ACL, Connor told me, ‘We're doing this for you. What we achieve is for you, man,” Kronberg said.
Although matters beyond his control precluded West’s postseason goals from happening, Brown was grateful to be part of the program’s resurgence. The individual hardware that accompanied it was a nice touch, given the work put in, but getting to achieve that success alongside his fellow seniors is what Brown will take away as he heads on to college at Ole Miss.
“With this senior class, I think it’s different than most that we’ve had in the past. It’s about the relationship that every single one of us has off the field, too,” Brown said. “We all hang out with each other almost every single day off the field. I think that bonded us and made us a better team. We’re all athletic guys and when we hang out it would inevitably turn into something like soccer and we start playing with each other.
“We’ve all played together so much over the last four years, whether it’s high school or club, that it just helps tremendously to be playing with friends instead of teammates.”