Winning a state championship last season not only brought a sense of notoriety to the Coronado High School boys soccer team, but it also brings added competition and pressure to the 2017-18 season.
The Dons defeated Salpointe Catholic High School last year in a penalty kick shootout to claim the 4A state crown. With a large senior class, Head Coach Nick Barker and his crew have begun their quest to return to the top.
Coach Barker says this time around, the Dons have a target on their backs and it’s growing with each passing match because they are now the team to beat.
“Last year, we really didn’t know what we had,” he said in a Dec. 5 interview. “This year, we know what we have and everyone else does as well.”
So far this season, Coronado has established its dominance early as it is 6–0 with five of those wins coming during the Stephan Hopp/Anthony Solis Cactus Cup.
In its first match of non-tournament play, the Dons decimated Seton Catholic Preparatory 8–1. Six players scored goals in that match with forward Gustavo Morales and midfielder Raul Roa each netting two.
Still, the season is young and Coronado has 11 more matches before the postseason begins.
One notable trait of this year’s Dons incarnation is the 11 seniors on roster, many of which were a part of last year’s team.
“They’ve been here before so the seniors know what this is about,” Coach Barker said. “They know what it’s like to wear the shield on their chests. They’ve done a great job leading us and they’re excited for the rest of the year.”
Playing complete football
Three of the returning 11 seniors on the roster will be leading the Dons as captains.
According to maxpreps.com, the team leaders are Morales and midfielders Ramon Palafox and Irvin Garcia.
Morales said because of seniority of the team, there is more maturity and a solid team chemistry which all bodes well for how the team plays soccer.
“We trust each other, that’s the main thing,” he said in a Dec. 5. “If there’s a mistake, we don’t get mad, we bring each other up. That’s just the way it is.”
Goalkeeper Anthony Salazar said it’s important to not get mad at teammates who make mistakes because it can lead to that player getting frustrated. That then could snowball into the entire team getting frustrated, he says.
With so many returning from last year’s team, a lot of what made the Dons champions a year ago also returns.
Offensively, Morales and Garcia return as top goal-scorers from a year ago with both scoring 10 goals, according to maxpreps.com. They look to fill the spot with forward Martin Martinez, who scored 11 goals last year.
So far this season including tournament play, Morales has netted five goals while Garcia has put away two but younger players have also made their presence known during the early goings of the season.
Roa, a junior, leads the way with nine goals so far while sophomore forward Carlos Mendoza has scored five as well. Mendoza has also assisted on five other goals.
Morales said the team’s style is to get the ball and push it forward quickly but the team isn’t content to stay at that speed. This was showcased against Seton Catholic where the Dons were racing up the field and many times, had the opposing team backpedaling.
“We like to play fast but we want to play even faster,” he said.
In order to get the ball up to the midfielders and forwards, the back line and goalkeeper need to contribute on the defensive end.
This year, Coronado will feature a new goalkeeper with Salazar taking over for last year’s goalkeeper David Flores.
Flores made a crucial save in last year’s penalty kick shootout that set up the go-ahead penalty kick to clinch the title.
So far this season, Salazar has played in five matches up from only two a year ago. During those five, he’s posted a shutout and three matches where he only allowed one goal.
“It feels great, honestly, to be out there doing what I love and leading a team,” Salazar said in a Dec. 5 interview.
Salazar also said he has a lot of confidence in the back line to help him put together a solid defensive output.
With this early resume in place, Coach Barker said Salazar has done a good job adjusting into the starting role.
“We’re excited for him to continue developing, he gets better each day,” he said. “He’s a big kid. He has a big wingspan and the sky’s the limit for him.”
The postseason doesn’t start until late January with the state championship a couple weeks past that.
But looking at the season as a whole is not how Coach Barker said he wants to approach the coming weeks and months.
He said he knows it’s a cliche but he wants his team to approach the season one match at a time and key-in on his team’s strength which is playing “complete football.”
“(Complete football means) all 11 players on the field look to combine, get the ball forward, play attack-minded and have possession with a purpose,” he said.