Your Prep Sports
IOWA CITY – From the time almost any kid steps onto a soccer field for the first time they dream of scoring goals.
Michael Nelson was no exception.
When Nelson began his soccer career as a youth he wanted to score goals, instead the current West High junior got started he was nearly as far from a goal-scorer as possible.
“Actually, when I first started playing soccer I was a center back,” Nelson said. “I wanted to score goals of course but that’s where I started.”
It has been quite a soccer journey for Nelson from youth league center back to one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the prestigious West High program.
In just two prep seasons Nelson has scored 44 goals and set the school single-season scoring record with four goals in an 11-0 win over Dubuque Hempstead last week.
“I started at center back but eventually moved to wing and then up front,” Nelson said. “I enjoyed up front more and I think it is where I fit the best.”
To say Nelson fits up front is an understatement.
With two more goals in a win over Cedar Rapids Xavier on Tuesday Nelson has pushed his school-record total to 30, surpassing the previous mark held by Brandon Steenlage.
“I think the biggest difference between Brandon Steenlage and Nelson was Steenledge was able to play multiple positions,” long-time West High coach Brad Stiles said. “Back then I would see where the other team was weak and put Brandon there and let him exploit it where now when Nelson walks on the field every single person knows he is playing up front and where he is at and where he is going. It’s been impressive what he has done.”
The 30 goals for Nelson rank eighth in the state this season and are the fourth most in Class 4A and have helped West High to a 16-2 record.
After having his freshman season cancelled by covid, Nelson has scored 44 goals and had 12 assists in 36 career matches.
“He hasn’t missed very many,” Stiles said. “At Bondurant he had an open goal and he hit a post and I it came back to him but I think he was so in shock he actually missed one he didn’t finish the second ball.”
Stiles backs up the account that scoring didn’t always come naturally to Nelson.
The veteran West High coach spent time coaching Nelson in his youth days and while the talent and potential was evident the goals weren’t coming.
“He would do all the right things as forward but never even come close to scoring a goal,” Stiles said with a smile. “I thought maybe he would grow into it but I didn’t know if he’d actually put everything together but I’m glad he has. As a 12-year old he was all over the place.”
As a prep Nelson has been a nightmare to defend.
He credits his increased strength as a major factor in his goal-scoring tear over the past two seasons.
“I think it’s a lot of just being stronger on the ball,” Nelson said. “Not just getting it and then kicking it out but having that courage and being strong with the ball.”
The other area in which Nelson believes he has improved is in his recognition of defenses.
Nelson has learned to use a variety of attributes rather than relying on one or two.
“There is definitely a lot of creativity that goes into but you have to read the defenders,” Nelson said. “Each defender is different. Speed and strength helps a lot but also the ability to reading balls and making timely runs and obviously one-on-one finishing.