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A place to call home: Juan Mackrey finds community in Worthington – The Globe

A place to call home: Juan Mackrey finds community in Worthington – The Globe

WORTHINGTON — Juan Mackrey walks around the Northwestern College campus in Orange City, Iowa, carrying a strange device.

Inside a leather carrying case is a small, cauldron-shaped metal mug with a silver metal straw protruding from it. At the top of the mug are dried, greenish yerba maté tea leaves.

Maté tea, a caffeinated beverage native to South America, is the national drink of Mackrey’s home country, Argentina.

“All the guys who speak Spanish when he’s around (the football team), it’s like, they get hit by it,” Northwestern head football coach Dan Swier said. “It’s a small thing, but there’s no rush.”

Despite her duties as an admissions counselor at Northwestern, Mackrey always seems to find time to connect with her community—a community built after several stops in both North and South America.

Born in Balcare, a town of just over 44,000 near the easternmost tip of Argentina, Mackrey said he has been playing soccer since he was three, a common skill that South American children must learn from an early age.

“From the moment you can walk, they throw you a ball and you have to kick it,” Mackrey said.

After coming to the United States in 2017 to play football at Georgia Military College, Mackrey transferred to Northwestern in 2019 and played his junior, senior and fifth seasons.

Juan Mackrey (19) dodges a defender while playing for the Northwestern College Red Raiders.

Posted by Juan Mackrey

For Mackrey, earning a spot in the starting lineup has been a journey. Coming to Northwestern in 2019, Mackrey was in an unfamiliar environment with a new team.

“I remember Juan being very kind, friendly, easy to talk to, easy to get along with off the field,” Swier said.

On the field, the situation was different.

“I remember him being very hard on himself,” Swier said. “When something didn’t go his way, he got really mad at himself.”

Swier said Mackrey’s frustration likely stems from a combination of coming back from a foot injury and believing he was good enough to be the starter, but the injury limited his physical ability to do what he knew how to do.

(Juan) has an incredible work ethic and it shows on the field.

Tim Kaltenberger, WCFC midfielder

“It was even worse because he wasn’t playing in the starting lineup for us and he knew he was good enough to be in our starting lineup,” Swier said. “So we said, ‘your effort is good, but your attitude is not so good and so you need to improve that.'”

Mackrey was then sent to the junior varsity team. Even more upset, Mackrey almost left the team and transferred to another team after his junior season, but all transfer options were canceled.

Swier allowed Mackrey to remain on the team but assured Mackrey that his expectations would not change.

“It was a big step for him … towards maturity. I don’t think he’s ever been challenged like that before,” Swier said. “And he came back in 2020 and everything was different that season.”

Mackrey later led Northwestern in scoring both his senior and senior seasons. Different, indeed.

Mackrey played in 44 games and scored 20 goals in his three years with the Red Raiders, including 11 in his fifth-year season in 2021 when he led Northwestern to its second conference title. Mackrey scored a goal and added an assist in the final game of the regular season against Doane College.

The goal in that game came off an assist from sophomore attacking midfielder and current Worthington Community Football Club (WCFC) teammate Tim Kaltenberger, a common bond they shared during their two years playing together at Northwestern and still do at WCFC.

Juan Mackrey (19) celebrates the Toros’ second goal of the game with teammate Tim Kaltenberger (21) in a 2-1 win against Austin Villa at Trojan Field in Worthington on June 5, 2024. Mackrey and Kaltenberger were teammates since their college days at Northwestern College.

Dominic Burns / Globe

Mackrey scored three goals in a 2020 game against Clarke University, a 5-2 win for Northwestern. Two of those goals came within two minutes of each other, with Kaltenberger assisting on both goals.

“It’s just a mutual understanding between us,” Kaltenberger said. “For example, when the ball goes long, I know he has the capacity to bring it down and either run behind me and throw it to me or just leave it to me. So we usually have an instinctive communication, but we don’t have to talk a lot about it, just because we’re so used to playing with each other.”

Mackrey is now out of college, but his love for football has not waned. He coached at Northern Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) in 2022, then returned to Northwestern as an admissions counselor and assistant coach under Swier.

“(Juan) has an incredible work ethic and it shows on the field,” Kaltenberger said.

In Mackrey’s first year coaching the NWC, the team won its first Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament with a 2-1 victory over Morningside University.

Juan Mackrey (left) displays the Great Plains Athletic Conference championship plaque with his fellow Northwestern College coaches.

Posted by Juan Mackrey

Mackrey played his first season with WCFC in the spring, despite having been affiliated with the team since the previous season.

A friend brought Mackrey on board midway through the Toros’ 2023 season, and he attended practices and played in some summer adult league games.

The player, who scored 6 goals in his first full season at Toros this summer, which will lead his team in the 2024 season, said he owes this success to his teammates, including Kaltenberger.

“They pretty much always have me ready and all I have to do is finish the chances,” Mackrey said. “I’m always trying to be in the right positions to score.”

“He’s a player who always wants more,” WCFC head coach Eswin Hernandez said. “He didn’t care if he already had one goal, he wanted two.”

For Mackrey, moving to Worthington has been a nice transition so far, but one of the biggest culture shocks he experienced after moving to Worthington was discovering how much more Midwesterners drive compared to Argentines.

“I told my family I drove 70 miles to play for Worthington,” Mackrey said. “And they think I’m crazy because it’s too much for them.”

However, the other culture shock he experienced was much easier to overcome.

“Everyone is so welcoming here, for whatever reason, everyone waves at you,” Mackrey said. “They don’t know you and say, ‘Hey, how’s your day?'”

Mackrey said his biggest challenge in all the places he’s lived has been finding a place he can call home. He’s been at Northwestern for five years now, so he feels at home there, but Worthington is starting to have a similar impact, he said.

While Mackrey said he has a “99%” chance of returning to WCFC for the 2025 season, he also hopes to move up in the soccer world. Guatemalan-born Hernandez is working to secure Mackrey a tryout in the Guatemalan professional league.

“That’s what we wanted when we built this team,” Hernandez said. “We want players to step up more.”

Hernandez said he wants to keep Mackrey on the team no matter whether he stays or not.

“We don’t want to miss it,” Hernandez said.

If Guatemala works out for Mackrey, he’ll have a community to return to, whether it’s in Orange City or Worthington.

As long as Maté has friends to share with, Mackrey will always be home.