Sports

Column: It’s time for redemption in Southland high school soccer


It’s a moment that still haunts the Lake Balboa Birmingham High boys’ soccer team.

“It’s hard to forget,” sophomore Adrian Diaz said.

The heavily favored Patriots lost to South East 2-1 in last year’s City Section championship game on a goal in overtime by Nico Magaña. It was a defensive breakdown.

“You coach this game long enough you understand one mistake can overturn an entire game and you learn to live with it,” coach EB Madha said. “That’s why we love this game. It can be cruel and beautiful at the same time.”

The Patriots won’t have their four-year standout David Diaz to pester teams with goals this season — he moved on to Cal State Northridge. But they remain the City title favorites behind sophomores Adrian Diaz and Steven Ramos as well as seniors Tony Macedo and Joe Barcenna. They’ve also hired a goalie coach and added one of the top players from rival Woodland Hills El Camino Real, Julio Chacon, which will make the two teams’ annual West Valley League games even more spicier.

“It’s tough when one of your leaders goes to a rival school, but we’re going to treat it like any other,” El Camino Real coach Ian Kogan said.

El Camino Real, which also lost to South East last season in the playoffs, returns one of the City Section’s best players in Pedro Perez and has high hopes for sophomore Bladimir Coto.

South East coach Felipe Bernal stunned Birmingham and El Camino Real in back-to-back matches last season, so the Jaguars have everyone’s respect. They return Adan Gonzalez but will rely on several sophomores to defend their title, including Nick Hernandez and Bernal’s son, Felipe Damon. “We have a lot of great talent but they’re young,” Bernal said.

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With the World Cup being played, coaches and players have never been more excited about a soccer season beginning. Of course, there’s one problem — lack of sleep from staying up late or getting up early to watch matches in Qatar.

“My biggest concern is their rest,” L.A. Cathedral coach Arturo Lopez said. “The World Cup happens every four years. I’m being considerate, starting practices later. It’s thrilling. It’s exciting. I see how energized the boys are and it’s a great talking point and a useful tool to connect with them on a different level.”

Cathedral is scheduled to play L.A. Loyola on Saturday at Cathedral in a 5 p.m. match that has become known as the Downtown World Cup. Senior forward Angel Guerra, a Cal Baptist commit, is a three-year varsity player for the Phantoms.

Anaheim Servite played several young players last season while winning the Southern Section Division 1 championship. The Friars return second-leading scorer Dylan Graham and top junior Joe Moyer. Santa Ana Mater Dei and Santa Ana Godinez also have top teams.

Reagan Heslin of San Juan Capistrano JSerra was the only underclassman on last year’s All-CIF Division 1 soccer team. Division 3 player of the year Mathias Brown is back for Fullerton Sunny Hills after starring as a kicker for the football team.

Girls’ soccer

Richard Simms, the girls’ soccer coach at Studio City Harvard-Westlake, has what he considers are “the most talented managers in the history of soccer.” That’s because USA national team member Alyssa Thompson, a senior, and her sister, Gisele, a junior, are unlikely to be available this season because of national team commitments.

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“They’re both training with us and would like to play,” Simms said.

If available, Harvard-Westlake would be unstoppable. Without them, the Wolverines will have to rely on super sophomore Victoria Pugh.

Westlake Village Oaks Christian looks strong, led by Ohio State commit Berkeley Mape and Long Beach State commit Kailey Supa.

Defender Zoe Willis returns for defending Division 1 champions Temecula Valley.

In the City Section, El Camino Real lost standout Ava Tibor to a knee injury but gained standout Julie Lopez, a transfer from Pasadena La Salle. Goalie Madison Lee is back for Reseda Cleveland, the defending Division I champion.

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