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Foothill League boys soccer preview: The league changes shape

With new coaches and top players gone, it’s a whole new ball game

Posted: January 7, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 7, 2012 2:00 a.m.

In a poll of the Foothill League’s coaches, Hart’s Nico Ferrero (14) has been chosen as the top player coming into the 2012 Foothill season.

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Pick your storyline.

The Foothill League has three new coaches this year who are trying to infuse three completely different styles.

Two of those new coaches are leading the top two finishers in league last year, West Ranch and Hart, respectively

In another twist, Hart’s former head coach Fausto Arana, who led the Indians to a CIF-Southern Section Division III quarterfinal, is now coaching Golden Valley.

And then there’s the other half of the league — the veterans.

The three coaches of Valencia, Canyon and Saugus have been around for a while and have distinct systems that are proven in the long haul.

The new guys are trying to change things up, working in schemes that emphasize offense and constant short passes.

Hart is one team that has made that style work so far, making it the apparent frontrunner this year with the key losses of the defending league champions West Ranch.

After all, it was a single point that separated the two teams in the final standings.

But with defensive-minded teams like Canyon, Valencia and Saugus lurking, anything is possible in this year’s wide open league.

 

Hart

Another transition is on the horizon this year for Hart, but don’t mistake the Indians for a team in a rebuilding phase.

This year’s squad is adjusting to the changes of first-year head coach Adonay Jovel without much of a problem as the Indians are heading into their league opener against West Ranch with a 9-1 record.

The hot start for Hart includes a championship-winning performance at its own Hart Soccer Showcase last week, when it defeated CIF-Southern Section Division III No. 3-ranked Pete Knight of Palmdale 2-1 in double overtime.

All that on top of the fact that Hart is coming off a second-place finish in league and a run to the Division III quarterfinals, matching the deepest playoff run in school history.

"This year, I’m just looking to teach the kids and have them kind of understand where I’m coming from so they can learn my system and play my style," Jovel said.

Now that Hart is clearly in the forefront of the conversation when it comes to league favorites, Jovel’s goal is to use his experience coaching in the Los Angeles City Section to the table in the Santa Clarita Valley.

"I think the toughest part is getting to them that we don’t have to play long balls all the time," Jovel said. "We can play the short balls."

Playing in a system like that lends itself to spreading around the scoring, though junior striker Nico Ferrero has found the back of the net six times to lead the team so far.

Ferrero is one of seven players returning, and he might be the team’s main replacement of last year’s leading scorer Uriel Rodriguez, who graduated.

At goalkeeper, the Indians have been splitting time between two new faces in junior Mathew Ortiz and sophomore Kevin Ponek.

 

Valencia

The best way to describe the 2011-12 Vikings is young, but experienced.

Though the team returns just one starter from last year, plenty more are coming in with at least some varsity experience, and many have two to three years of junior varsity time under their belts.

Though Valencia will have to replace talented midfielder Ben Beilin and goalkeeper Daniel Adame, a defensive-minded team like the Vikings shouldn’t have a lot of trouble recuperating with a roster replete with varsity first-timers.

"Slowly but surely, we’re building and I think the goal is to peak at the right time and our objective this year is obviously to try to make a run, but more importantly to try to make the playoffs," said head coach Tony Scalercio.

A 5-2-1 record and a fourth-place finish at the Hart Soccer Showcase last week wasn’t ideal for the Vikings, but Scalercio said he’s less concerned with wins and losses in preleague play.

The team’s chemistry and organization is more important for a team that finished tied for third last year and is still in search of its first league title.

So far, he’s pleased with how the lone returning starter — Michael Fischbach — and the three other returning players are working with the less experienced players.

Junior Gino Ferraro is one of those newcomers who has played well at goalkeeper and the midfield is looking solid with seniors Thomas Pugliese and Michael Guzman.

The Vikings may not necessarily field a go-to goal scorer, but that’s not a primary concern for a team that will rely heavily on defense.

"My favorite score in soccer is 1-0," Scalercio said.

 

West Ranch

Even fresh off its first league title in school history, West Ranch still has a few question marks.

That’s why first-year head coach Fred McGinn is taking a cautiously optimistic approach this year.

"Anything can happen in this league, so you can’t underestimate anything because any favorite team could just flop," McGinn said.

First and foremost, the team’s top two scorers from last season — Jacob Jordan and last year’s Foothill League MVP Lucas Reilly — are no longer on the team.

Jordan graduated and Reilly, who is a senior this year, is playing academy soccer which makes him ineligible for high school play.

There are a few sure things for the Wildcats, though.

Chris Tumasone and Brandon Dooley, the two senior captains who’ll boost a young team in need of leadership.

The two have scored four goals apiece so far to lead the team.

Based on the player and coach turnover around the league, McGinn is plenty comfortable with his new-look team, which wrapped up its preleague slate at 4-2-1.

"We’re ready to go in there and fight for that spot," McGinn said of league play. "We’re confident, but we’re not going to underestimate anybody."

Outside of the two captains, McGinn is expecting a lot from his starting forwards German Hernandez and Wade McMillon. Both are new to varsity.

At goalkeeper, a pair of sophomores in Alex Manzo and Cole Murphy are battling it out for the starting position.

The scheme will likely go mostly unchanged due to McGinn’s close ties with former head coach Mo Burgess.

Either way, a new era is here for West Ranch soccer.

 

Saugus

It’s already been an up-and-down season for Saugus, which was the Foothill’s last-place team a year ago.

Early in preleague play, the Centurions were crowned champions at the Lancaster Tournament, but they followed that with a disappointing sixth-place finish at the Hart Soccer Showcase last week.

In the end, Saugus came out of it with a 5-7-1 record, but head coach Seth Groller likes the direction of the junior-heavy team and an experienced defense.

"Defense is always No. 1 for us and from there it’s obviously developing an attack and attacking as a team," Groller said. "Really for us, it’s all about playing as one unit, as one structure."

A lot of those juniors played on varsity last year as sophomores, including multi-dimensional defender Zach Nua and midfielder Brian Perez.

Perez was the team’s top scorer last year in spite of the fact that he missed a portion of the season with a knee injury.

As far as seniors are concerned, Saugus has Kevin Hamburger in the midfield and talented goalkeeper Justin Socarras.

The Centurions lost just four seniors to graduation last year and the team has several starters and subs coming back, making them one of the most veteran teams in the league.

In a Foothill sneak preview during the Hart Showcase, Saugus lost 2-0 to Hart on Dec. 27, but hung tough until the end when Hart added a second goal in the closing minutes.

Although a losing effort, Groller said the result told him a lot about his team and what needs to improve.

"It made us kind of more on the defensive because we came out real slow," Groller said. "That’s been part of the focus right now, and also keeping our structure."

With as much depth and experience as the Centurions have gained, a quick turnaround from last year seems entirely possible.

 

Golden Valley

It took Fausto Arana three years to turn around the Hart boys team. Now, he’ll have a shot at rebuilding Golden Valley.

He admits it probably won’t happen right away, but Arana has gone to work right away trying to instill a sense of work ethic and discipline to the program, which ended up fifth in league in 2011.

"Like any new school, it’s a work in progress," Arana said. "The boys are getting to where we want."

Seven players are returning to the squad this year, but Arana said its not as much about individual performances as it is about changing the team’s approach and attitude.

For starters, the first-year head coach went out of his way to schedule the maximum amount of preleague games, increasing the total from three to 11.

The Grizzlies finished 2-9 in those contests, but it gave players a chance to establish themselves in given positions.

Senior Guy Meyers might be an exception. Arana said Meyers is capable of playing just about any position on the field.

Fellow senior Fernando Lauchu is a team captain and a returning goalkeeper, while senior midfielder Randy Tapia returns as one of the team’s most capable scorers.

He’s leading the team with five goals so far.

At this point, the hope is that Golden Valley has enough conditioning and enough experience to stay in the mix with the rest of the league.

 

Canyon

This season will test Canyon’s ability to reload after benefitting from multiple years of heavy-hitting talent.

Two of the league’s best players — Mohammed Roknipour and Jordan Markovich — have graduated off a team that finished a surprising tie for third place.

The Cowboys had won three straight league titles leading into last season, but times have changed.

Junior Bonafacio Rojas will play striker after spending the fall season as a place kicker for the Cowboys’ football team.

Helping out on the offensive end will be senior returner A.J. Rochow, who helped Canyon advance to the finals of the La Canada Tournament last week.

A 2-0 loss to Millikan High of Long Beach in the finals put the Cowboys at 3-4-1 going into league season.

Millikan ranks sixth in the latest CIF-SS Division I poll.

Rojay Morrison and returning junior Daniel Foster also played well in the tournament.

Sophomore Robert Nudya, who came on as a freshman late last year, is listed as the team’s goalkeeper.

Head coach Khris Savage typically likes to emphasize building players through the freshman and JV programs at the school, which makes Canyon a difficult team to count out of the race.

 

 

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