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Foothill League boys soccer preview: There's no room for error

All six teams should be competitive in league

Posted: January 5, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 5, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Hart striker Nico Ferrero, left, missed eight games during the preseason. His return gives the Indians, who have finished in second two straight seasons, another threat up top.

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The Foothill League championship has been decided on the final day of league play two years in a row in boys soccer.

Yet this season, the league could be even more competitive.

West Ranch is trying for its third straight Foothill crown this year, though it only won on a technicality last season.

Would-be league champion Canyon had to forfeit most of its league victories late last season after the team committed a CIF violation by allowing an ineligible player to take the field.

That’s not to say the Wildcats weren’t a good team last year. They’re still one of the leading contenders to win this season, along with Hart and Saugus.

Hart missed out on winning league by a single point in 2010-11 and it fell short by just three points last year.

After two straight second-place finishes, Hart is a team hungry for redemption and looking red hot headed into Tuesday’s Foothill openers.

Saugus boasts an experienced roster of players who have been together for a few years now.

Valencia and Canyon can never be counted out of a league title race, and Golden Valley has shown impressive stretches this season, making the Foothill League a complete toss-up.

West Ranch

After what has unquestionably been the best two-year span for West Ranch in program history, head coach Fred McGinn thinks he’s got a team good enough to keep the ball rolling.

“Last year we had some very, very good individually talented players, but this year we’re focused more on the team than the individual spread,” said McGinn, who is entering his second year as head coach after taking over for Mo Burgess last season.

McGinn’s squad brought home a league title in his first year at the helm, but it needed Canyon’s help to do so.

This time around, the Wildcats are taking the field without 2011-12 All-Santa Clarita Valley Player of the Year Brandon Dooley and first-teamer Chris Tumasone.

West Ranch will instead rely on returning starters Wade McMillion, a senior forward, Justice Rodrigues, a senior center midfielder and Alex Manzo, a junior

West Ranch also has a wealth of players with at least some varsity experience to surround the key pieces.

Already, the team posted an impressive performance in the Eagle Cup held in Lancaster.

During that tournament, the Wildcats (6-1-2) won 2-0 over Harvard-Westlake, a CIF-Southern Section Division I power.

“The thing we have to have is consistency and that was what we were lacking last year,” McGinn said.

In the midfield, senior Jake Hirst and junior Jake Martinez will help West Ranch. Both players saw a fair amount of play time off the bench last season.

Another pair of juniors, Zack Sage and Rhys Wheatley, will anchor the defensive line for the Wildcats.

Sage has limited varsity experience while Wheatley is a full-on varsity newcomer.

Hart

As Hart gets healthier, it only becomes more dangerous.

For the second straight season, the Indians come into league play as the Foothill’s hottest team after claiming victory in its own Hart Soccer Showcase tournament.

With eight returning starters this season and some key players coming back from injuries and other issues, Hart (8-2-1) is looking like a complete team.

“It’s going to come down to our guys being healthy,” said Hart head coach Adonay Jovel. “If everybody stays healthy, we’re going to be alright.”

Early in the season, the Indians were without starting senior midfielder Harrison Sidell, who has now returned to the field from an ankle sprain.

Hart also has third-year varsity forward and returning All-SCV first-teamer Nico Ferrero back in uniform after missing eight games due to off-field issues.

Now, the main piece of the puzzle missing is senior sweeper Gabe Robinson, who has yet to return from a hamstring injury.

In his place, senior newcomer Jonathan Rose has played excellent, as has junior Nicholas Tamashiro. The two have held strong on the backline.

But Hart’s strength comes at the forward position, where three seniors in Ferrero, Osmar Martinez and Anthony Caso will create havoc for opposing defenses.

Freshman Derek Waldeck and his older brother Riley, a junior, have played well in the midfield for Hart, while Matt Ortiz and Kevin Ponek are splitting time at goalkeeper.

Saugus

This was supposed to be the year for Saugus, which has tons of experience and a host of senior talent.

But a streak of bad luck has left things in question for the Centurions, who are trying to fight back from a rash of injuries to starters.

Head coach Seth Groller said he’s had five different players rotate in at forward this season. All of them have been injured at one point.

“We’ve battled through some things and, as a team, I kind of like to see the team have to go through a little bit of adversity before league sometimes just to see what they’re made of,” Groller said.

The key players Saugus (3-4-3) has seen go down include seniors Jesse Birmele (hamstring), Danny Torres (thigh), Joe Cox (knee) and Austen Scheff (knee).

Others include junior returner Liam Sikich (back) and freshman Dom Menolascino (back), who are two of just five non-seniors on the team of 20 players.

The good news is most of the injuries are minor and Groller said his players have been able to play through a lot of them.

On top of that, the Centurions still have fourth-year varsity player Brian Perez, who will play center midfielder this year. Feisty defender Zack Nua also returns, though he’ll move up to play midfield as well.

At goalkeeper, Saugus has two solid options in senior Jonah Valdez and junior newcomer Noah Maynard.

Valencia

What the Vikings lack in experience, they have made up for in scrappy defensive play.

Valencia (8-4-1) fended off some top-level competition in the Hart Showcase last week to earn a spot in the final.

The Vikings lost 1-0 to Hart, but that wasn’t before they beat defending Golden League champion Knight of Palmdale and tying CIF-SS Div. 3 No. 1 ranked Crescenta Valley in the same tournament.

“The objective is to make sure everyone is on the same page and make sure we’re able to play as a unit and defend as a unit and attack as a unit,” said Valencia head coach Tony Scalercio. “And we’ve gotten better throughout the preseason.”

Most of Valencia’s returning players are on the offensive end, including senior forwards Marc Silingardi and Jesus Fernandez.

Josh Singer and Jake Veiga return on defense, but last year’s All-SCV players Michael Fischbach and Garrett McPheeters graduated.

Returner Gino Ferraro and newcomer Jorge Garcia are in competition for the starting goalkeeper spot.

“I’m giving everyone a chance to play their way in and play their way out, and that goes for everyone on the team,” Scalercio said.

Canyon

A big group of seniors departed after last season, leaving Canyon shorthanded on experience.

It’s also a squad with a new head coach in Lou Aguilera.

He took over for previous coach Khris Savage, who was let go after the mishap that cost Canyon a fourth league championship in a span of five years.

Though the Cowboys (6-8-3) have been a league powerhouse in recent years, Aguilera admits it’s going to be a process to get back to that level.

“Hopefully we’ll right the ship. We’ll be competitive,” Aguilera said. “Are we in the elite top three? I don’t think so.”

For starters, Canyon is missing its two senior forwards Bonifacio Rojas and Chad Ybarra due to injuries.

For the time being, the team’s strength is on defense, where Timothy Wagner and Tyler Arteaga lead the way.

Behind them is third-year starting goalkeeper Niko Nudya.

Returning senior Daniel Foster will play center midfielder and senior newcomer Firas Eid will be expected to step in and help out on the offensive end.

“It’s just a matter of finding confidence within the players,” Aguilera said.

Golden Valley

For the second year in a row, uncertainty surrounds the Grizzlies headed into league play.

After spending just one year as head coach and leading Golden Valley to a last-place finish in Foothill, Fausto Arana resigned just two weeks before the start of the season in November.

As the former girls varsity head coach at the school, Charles Martinez stepped into the role, and he’s taken it in stride.

“New transition, new ideas, new coach,” Martinez said. “My goal is to end up doing better than in years before. It is hard when you have a new coach so close to the season, it’s really, really hard.”

Golden Valley (5-6-1) does have some offensive abilities with senior forward Sebastian Martinez and sophomore forward Levon Ekmekchyan leading the way.

Though he’s battling injuries right now, stellar freshman midfielder Francisco Perez will be feeding those two the ball.

Key midfielder Billy Torres is also sidelined with an injury.

On defense, the Grizzlies have a good mix of talent and experience with Michael Richardson and Caesar Romo as the senior returners in the center and Justin Dulay and Juan Martinez as the promising sophomores on the left and right side.

 

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