Boys' soccer season starts with change
Local squads have to adjust to departure of prominent players.
ARCHIVE PHOTO: All-Area second-team junior forward Ali Kamal (seven goals and seven assists) is back for Pasadena Poly. (Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff Photographer)
One team undergoing such change is La Salle High, where 14-year coach Dan Sheridan is hoping to maintain a similar level of excellence from last season as his Lancers finished 16-4-3 and clinched a co-Del Rey League championship.
However, La Salle faces a big hurdle in graduating nine seniors, including All-Area first-team midfielder Andrew Powers (10 goals and seven assists) and second-team goalie Garrett Kubon and defender Francesco Luna.
“We’re a completely different team last year from this year. We were senior-led and had several club players,” Sheridan said. “This year, we don’t have as many club players, but we do have some talent. It’s just a matter of jelling.”
La Salle welcomes back senior forward Briley Venti, who led the Lancers with 11 goals last season, along with senior midfielder Patrick Sullivan and sophomore Matt MacDonald.
One of those three players will be forced to fill the void left by senior and three-year varsity player Nick Clairzio, who was likely lost for the season during a scrimmage with a knee injury.
On defense, the Lancers return juniors Ben Vigil and Nick Buzzerio and sophomores Jason Young and Duncan Breda.
Like La Salle, Pasadena Poly (11-7-2) is also going through a season of change, as the co-Prep League champions are nearly a new squad.
“I’m not going to call it a rebuilding year, but we did graduate nine guys along with Prep League MVP midfielder Benoy Menon and midfielder Jack Birkenbeuel, who is at UC Irvine,” Poly Coach Doug Jolly said. “We’re going to be different.”
The good news for the Panthers is that All-Area second-team junior forward Ali Kamal (seven goals and seven assists) is back along with junior center back Ian McKnight and senior utility player Hunter Palmentiero.
“We’ve got a group that can play soccer,” Jolly said. “The question is coming together with new people and new positions. Can we do it? We’ll find out.”
There’s a buzz at South Pasadena as 19-year coach Juan Zurita feels his team will be strong despite the graduation of 14 seniors, highlighted by All-Area second-team midfielder Mathewos Ghebrekristos (eight goals and 11 assists).
“It’s a blessing to be here and I think we have the guys this year to take the next step and dominate,” said Zurita, whose Tigers (17-10-2) finished third in the Rio Hondo League last season and advanced to the second round of the Division V playoffs. “We have the talent to get to the finals.”
Zurita’s 19-player roster returns a few standouts in junior striker Heven Gomez, who netted eight goals and six assists in 16 matches last season, along with junior midfielders Zack Dunn (12 assists and five goals), Michael Mendenhall and Danny Zurita. Newcomer Ramon Gutierrez is also expected to make an impact in the middle.
As for defense, the Tigers have three defenders 6-foot-1 or taller in seniors Charlie Slocum and Andrew Moreno and junior Leo Parker.
While Zurita has passed many seasons with the Tigers, the Pasadena-area’s longest tenured coach, Pasadena High 20-year veteran Cherif Zein, is also positive heading into 2012-13.
“I think we’ll be a little stronger and a little older,” Zein said. “We’ve got 25 guys on the team and we’re ready for the season.”
Pasadena (10-7-5), which finished third in the Pacific League and lost in the first round of the Division IV playoffs, returns two solid players in senior forward Smail Belhamra, an All-Area second-team selection who finished with 15 goals and six assists last year, and senior goalie Jimmy Castillo.
Maybe the Pasadena-area’s most underrated program, Marshall Fundamental, is planning to top a 2011-12 season in which the Eagles (12-4-7) finished fourth in the Alpha League advanced to the second round of the Division VI playoffs.