By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
After the best season in the history of the Baldwin Park High School boys soccer team, the bar is set even higher for the 2009-10 season. The Braves advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division VI championship game for the first time ever and lost in the finals to three-time champion Salesian 2-1 in sudden-death overtime.
That taste has left them wanting more, and with eight starters back, including senior striker Edgar Padilla and midfielder playmaker Rafael Murillo, the Braves will start the season as the Tribune’s No. 1 team. For the rest of the top ten, click thread
The Braves finished with a 23-2-2 record last year. When they defeated Animo Leadership in a tense penalty-filled shootout at home in the semifinals, there were more than 1,000 fans in the stands cheering them on.
“It was a remarkable season,” Braves coach Ricardo Mira said. “We got the school and community behind us. It has left everyone wanting to keep this going. We’re anxious to get the season started. We feel like we have a talented and experienced team, more than capable of duplicating what we did last year.
“But of course, we would like to take it a step further and win a championship.”
Goalkeeper Freddy Salazar is one of the area’s best, and if the Braves can fill the two starting holes they lost on defense there is no reason to believe they won’t battle for another championship.
“We have enough leadership, especially with Freddy, heads leads our defense,” Mira said. “Up front, we expect a lot from Edgar. Everyone knows who he is and what he’s capable of. He’s worked very hard to get himself ready, and we think he’s going to have another big year for us.”
2. Mountain View (21-5-4)
The Vikings finished another remarkable season by beating undefeated Victorville Silverado 2-1 in sudden-death overtime to claim the Division VII title. It was the Vikings’ second title since 1995.
Returning for his senior season is 5-foot-1 field general Diego Rodriguez, who was named The Tribune Player of the Year and Division VI Player of the Year for his ability to dictate the Vikings tempo and his dramatics in the playoffs.
Rodriguez scored the lone goal in a 1-0 semifinal victory over Viewpoint, then set up the dramatics in the championship game. With the game tied 1-1 in the first sudden-death overtime against Silverado, Rodriguez’s run down the side ended with him slicing a pass toward the middle for Julio Fernandez, who scored the game-winning goal to lift the Vikings to a 2-1 win.
Fernandez, who was named Mission Valley League MVP after leading the team with 15 goals and eight assists, also is back, but they lost Omar Rodriguez and sturdy defender Freddy Centeno. Senior Fabian Villasenor should help fill that void in the back along with sophomore defender Manuel Garcia.
“We’re losing a lot of players, but when you have players like Julio and Diego coming back, I like our chances,” Vikings coach Felipe Corona said. “Julio’s a workhorse. He’s such a big part of what we do and he makes everyone around him better.”
3. Sierra Vista (18-2-2)
In the always-competitive Montview League, the Dons managed to go a perfect 12-0 and advanced to the Division IV quarterfinals before losing to Pacifica, 4-1.
With senior forward Luis Fuentes, who scored 29 goals and 10 assists returning for his senior year, the Dons have a good chance of winning back-to-back league titles.
They will miss Tribune first-team defender Jorge Onate and midfielder Alfonso Espinosa, but midfielder Juan Carlos Molina and forward Robert Jimenez returning should be a huge help.
4. West Covina (14-4-3)
The San Antonio League champion Bulldogs should be favored again with 15 seniors and six returning starters, including first-team midfielder Christian Ortega. Joining Ortega in the midfield is Adrian Ponce, who didn’t play last year because of club commitments and gives the Bulldogs a dynamic presence in the middle of the field.
The Bulldogs lost league MVP Ivan Del Real, but three more second-team selections are back, including forward Jesus Rangel and defenders Marco Gayton and Carlos Garcia.
“We should be pretty good,” West Covina coach Juan De Anda said. “We knew last year this had the chance of being one of our best seasons. I think Rowland will probably be the team to beat (in the San Antonio) along with us. But I like what we have coming back.”
5. Diamond Bar (12-9-4)
During the 1980s the Brahmas were one of the premiere programs in the Valley, and they still draw significant amounts of talent because of the area’s solid club programs, but competing in the Sierra League and Division II is a tough assignment.
After finishing second in league and losing in the first round of the playoffs, the Brahmas return several key players including senior forward Neil Ignacio, who led them in scoring with 15 goals and six assists.
Suraj Patek and Matt Jean also should help with the scoring, and they’re solid defensively with Nick Radar, Kevin Knight and Adam Camacho.
6. Los Altos (11-4-3)
The Conquerors won the Miramonte League, which was the most competitive league in the area with Wilson and Diamond Ranch, but the Conquerors would like to get out of the first round of the Division IV playoffs after losing in the first round last year.
The Conquerors return Miramonte League first-team forward Ivan Madera and second-team junior Juan Mendoza. They should provide plenty of firepower up front.
On the back line, first-team defender Tony Hernandez also returns along with several other starters, so they should be favored to repeat as league champs again.
7. Damien (12-10-3)
The Spartans’ overall record is nothing to feel bad about, considering they play one of the area’s toughest schedules and tied Diamond Bar for second place in the Sierra League.
The Spartans defeated Palmdale before losing to second-seed Troy, 1-0, in the second round of the Division II playoffs, but they would like to return to the days when they annually competed for divisional titles.
Junior midfielder Sina Enternadian is back after scoring four goals, but the Spartans’ strength comes from 5-foot-10 defender Matthew Zecchini and midfielder Nathan Arteaga.
8. Bishop Amat (14-5-4)
The Lancers lost some very talented players such as goalkeeper Christopher Mancilla along with Peter Careaga and Justin Gener, but six starters are back for the defending Del Rey League champions who were upset in the first round of the Division IV playoffs last year by La Puente, 4-3, in sudden-death overtime.
Returning are first-team players, which include midfielder Abraham Torres, forward Aaron Mireles and Scott Rodriguez.
9. Diamond Ranch (13-5-1)
The Panthers, who should battle Los Altos and Wilson again for the Miramonte League title, welcome back one of the area’s best midfielders in senior Paul Dewhurst, a returning first-team selection.
Although they lost three-first team players, two second-team selections are back in senior forward Trey James and midfielder Bryson Lewis.
10. La Puente (11-6-5)
The Warriors finished second behind Sierra Vista in the Montview League and upset Del Rey League champion Bishop Amat in one of the best games of the Division IV playoffs, 4-3 in sudden-death overtime.
The Warriors return a young core, but feature a dynamic player in Alex Hernandez.
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