Aldair Cortes reflects on Atlanta United, Mexico and Sun Belt Championship

Aldair Cortes (15) had a decorated freshman campaign and has started the season off strong with two goals and seven assists.

Chuck Paggett

Fresh off the practice field – the morning of Georgia Southern’s big game against in-state rival Mercer – junior Aldair Cortes spent some time reflecting on where he’s been and, perhaps more importantly, where he plans to go.

The 20-year-old native of Mexico has a large personality with even larger expectations for himself on and off the field, something he doesn’t take for granted.

Cortes spent most of his adolescence in Cairo, Georgia, a small southwestern town about 15 miles north of the Florida-Georgia border. 

“Cairo, it was nice,” Cortes said. “My family came when I was probably around five … and I came here whenever I was seven. I mean, [it’s] not enough people but everyone knew each other down there and everyone helped each other out so it wasn’t bad.”

He said that the transition to America was difficult at first, but he got used to it as time went by. Although he would go on to play soccer for three years at Cairo High School, he says he found his love for the game during his years in Mexico.

“Yeah I mean, on my dad’s side everyone basically plays soccer so since I was a little kid. I grew up with it,” Cortes said.

As the eldest of four siblings, Cortes understands the importance of his family unit and how they enable him to do what he loves. He relies on their daily support to get him through his rigorous schedule, and he wants to be a positive example for them.

“My family – me just trying to do the best I can for them for all the stuff they did for me – I mean, it just makes me work harder knowing that I have them back at home watching me,” Cortes said. “And being the bigger brother and setting the example for them.”

After finishing a stellar high school career, including three All-State and four All-Region selections, Cortes set his sights on attending college. On the way to choosing between several Division I schools, he managed to land an opportunity with the Atlanta United Development Academy, a step he called big for his playing career.

Stuck between choosing Furman or Georgia Southern to further his education and playing time on the field, Cortes made the decision to become an Eagle and hasn’t looked back since.

“I just thought Georgia Southern was a better fit for me,” Cortes said. “It was closer to home so that’s why I came here, and I liked the team and everything when I came here.”

That choice immediately paid off as Cortes won Sun Belt Freshman of the Year and made Second Team All-Sun Belt in 2017. 

In last season’s Sun Belt Championship race, Cortes played a pivotal role on the team and earned made the All-Tournament Team. This season, he was named to the Preseason All-Conference Team.The individual accomplishments don’t mean as much to him as the team’s success, and he credits his team for putting him in a position to be able to earn those recognitions.

On the off chance he’s not on the practice field or studying for an upcoming test, Cortes loves spending time to decompress from everything surrounding a student-athlete’s schedule.

“[I] play Fortnite or go to the movies, I mean I like spending time with my friends,” Cortes said. “I think [the last movie I saw] was the new It movie, yeah I like scary movies.”

Whether he’s going to the swimming pools at the RAC or spending time in the jacuzzi, Cortes finds a way to enjoy his time in Statesboro.

“I mean [Statesboro] reminds me a lot of Cairo, that’s another [reason] I came here because it reminded me a lot of being back at home,” Cortes said. “It’s not big, but it’s not too small, it’s like in between so it was nice to come here and see that.”

Growing up, his favorite soccer team was a Mexican team named Pumas and he says he’d love to play for them someday…But, at the moment he has one goal in mind – winning the Sun Belt.

“We’re definitely working harder for it,” Cortes said. “I mean, having to lose the final last year has put us in a mentality that we have to work harder than we did last year to get back in that final and win it this time. So it’s pretty much just working hard and getting into that mindset … that mentality that we have to win every single game. And then one game at a time.”

Chuck Paggett, The George-Anne Sports Reporter, [email protected]