Wildcats, Apollos, Crusaders lining up for Metro soccer title
The Metro League has long been a breeding ground for boys playoff soccer success.
Teams that finish in the top-four or even top-five of the conference frequently find themselves in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs at least. The conference's pedigree for putting out superior squads that often play late into October is indisputable. If you're from Metro, you automatically pop up on the state's barometer come playoff time.
So far, as the non-league slate concluded and league play kicked off, contenders are again rising to the surface statewide.
Westview, Jesuit, and Sunset are currently ranked inside the to -six of the 6A's power rankings. Aloha and Beaverton both boast two of the best creative playmakers in Metro in Beaver senior Christian Hernandez and Warrior senior Ismael Vara. Southridge junior Ryan Wallace is a soundly skilled midfielder with great finishing ability.
Just two games into Metro action, only Westview remains unscathed at 2-0. With huge games that carry postseason implications on the horizon, most of the conference's coaches believe Westview's undefeated start is a foreshadowing of some sort.
"The team with the most talent is Westview, who have a significant pool of top-level club players," Jesuit head coach Steve Fennah said. "Sunset will also be strong."
"I feel that Westview is the favorite to win the league," Southridge head coach JJ Villanueva said. "They have a deep roster and a strong senior lead team."
"This is the Metro League — the league title is available to any team on any given night, one game at a time," Westview head coach Jon Fresh said. "I believe it will come down to the team that plays a complete game nightly and a complete season, with the proper preparation on and off the field. The importance of the league title for Westview is cautiously secondary to the development of young men."
Before the year began, Sunset was pegged as the team most likely to tangle with Westview for league bragging rights and still very well could. The Apollos, however, have been bitten by the injury bug. Senior Elijah White and junior Cole Rogers are both out for the foreseeable future, though Sunset hopes to get both back by the playoffs.
If the two midfielders return, Sunset adds a pair of superstars to an already teeming mix of seniors and established veterans.
"I believe this team has a very good opportunity to win the league and that is the expectation of this group," Sunset head coach Jeff Gadawski said. "Westview will have a very good team as they have a solid core of players that had a good summer with their club team (FC Portland). Jesuit is always right there in the end."
Following are previews for the Beaverton-area Metro League boys soccer teams for the rest 2017 season.
Vara is Aloha's headliner, a brilliantly gifted scorer and passer who can put the ball in the net against basically any backline or thread passes to teammates on the move.
And the forward has help in his senior running mates such as Omar Bernal, Jose Vega, Javier Milian, Alex Abonce, Elias Lopez, Erik Robles and Ethan Hall. Hall was honorable-mention all-Metro as a defender last year.
Vara, who dealt with an injury-plagued junior season, was first-team all-Metro as a sophomore and Milian was honorable-mention all-Metro as a sophomore as well.
With three all-league caliber players and a strong senior crew, there is certainly talent in the ranks. The Warriors are 2-4-1 overall and 1-1 in Metro after beating Century and losing to Liberty.
New head coach Scott Munson inherited a Beaver team reliant on top-tier players with Hernandez and junior forward AJ King.
Senior Alex DeLeon and juniors Ramiro Espindola and Matthew Harp are goal-scoring threats offensively. Sophomore Nicholas Kimmi is learning the tricks of the trade along Beaverton's backline, but he can also come up and score a goal on set pieces like he did off a corner kick against Sunset.
Hernandez is a senior midfielder and forward with first-team all-Metro potential who puts pressure on the opposing defense with his tricky ball-handling and a heavy right foot.
"He's quick, technically strong, and he is a gifted playmaker," Munson said.
King is part of the Oregon Development Program for 2001's.
"He is physical, fast and has a nose for goal," Munson said.
On the heels of a superb 6A semifinal season, the Crusaders appear to be right on course for yet another deep playoff run. Jesuit began the season with three non-league ties and beat Sunset 2-0 on Sept. 23. The No. 6 Crusaders travel to Westview on Oct. 9 for a top-10 showdown. Jesuit knocked off Westview in the second round of the playoffs last season in a hotly contested affair.
Junior goalie Nolan Aylward, midfielder Ben Scott, senior forwards Seifu Zerabruk and Cesar Cruz all carry clout and big-time ability on the pitch. Scott was honorable-mention all-Metro last year.
"We hope to make the top three in the Metro League," Thurley said. "We have a well-balanced roster this year, without the 'game-breakers' of yesteryear. Our freshmen have shown a lot of promise, so the future looks bright."
Villanueva was at the helm for the Skyhawks' huge programwide sea change a season ago, as Southridge finished a respectable 2-4-2 in Metro after not winning a league game for two years.
The Skyhawks have strung together two competitive, close losses to Westview and Glencoe so far in Metro.
"We look to improve on the foundation of last year," Villanueva said. "We have several new players to varsity and are expecting the returning varsity players take on a bigger leadership role. The team goal is to qualify for playoffs this year. "
Southridge's starters included Wallace, Philip Seicianiu, Khaled Al-Rashidi, Jacob Cooper, Jacob Hamada, Zach Nhem, Julian Jackson, Kevin Krenz, Ibrahim Abou-Seada, Keri Zhou, Ronaldo Vildozola-Olade, Francisco Burboa-Lopez, Ricardo Chavira-Escobar.
The Skyhawk team captains this year are Cooper, Nhem, and Wallace.
"We are lucky to have two very strong goalkeepers that are challenging each other to win the starting role this year," Villanueva said. "Nhem has moved into the holding mid position and is impacting each game with his relentless work ethic."
As of now, the Apollos' long-term potential is in somewhat of a holding pattern.
Until White and Rogers are cleared, Sunset won't truly know how good it can be as a squad. Gadawski said if White had stayed healthy, he would have won Metro Player of the Year. White went to Timbers Academy and thus, could not play high school soccer the past two years. He left the Academy and came back to Sunset last year right before playoffs.
"There are only one or two other players in the state that are even close to his ability," Gadawski said. "He is simply one of the most talented kids I have coached while at Sunset. He is very strong at running by people, a very good finisher, and simply has a very good understanding of how he can support his teammates during the course of the game. Rogers is right there as well."
Sunset will miss both playmakers, but the cupboard is far from bare. The Apollos have a handful of others that can put the ball in the net as well: sophomore Julian Thuller and seniors Jose Diaz, David Chavez and Javi Urena. Gadawski said all four of those Apollos "would be amongst the top two or three players on any team in the league."
Thuller and Diaz both bagged a pair of goals against Beaverton in a 4-1 victory that was closer than the final score would indicate. Junior goalie Kellen Guillion is a stopper between the posts. Justin Tierney, Liam Collins and Ethan Dull lead the Sunset defense.
"This year our team has more pure goal scorers than we have had in previous years," Gadawski said. "Diaz, Rogers, Thuller, and White are all very dangerous players going forward. We are solid defensively and in goal, and we are simply deeper off of the bench than we have been in over five or six years."
Through the non-league slate and the first two games of league play, the Wildcats have looked untouchable.
Westview hasn't won a game by less than two goals and is 7-0 overall so far. The No. 3 Wildcats have scored an absurd 48 goals in just seven games, including a 9-0 bashing of Barlow, an 8-1 pasting of Oregon City and 6-0 shutout over Sunset. To put that number in proper context, Westview scored 40 goals total all of last season including the playoffs. In its second league game, Westview threw up seven goals against accredited Century.
Of the 22 players on the roster, 18 of them are seniors. Seniors Davis King, Liam Kiger, and Zach Velasco were all honorable-mention all-Metro, but that's just the beginning of Westview's talent pool. Alex Monroy, Jose Sarabia-Maldonando, Jonathan Gutierrez-Saucedo and Takumi Jankovsky, among others, bring blends of keen scoring and passing abilities that few teams in the state can match up with.
"We are returning a number of players with much quality experience," Fresh said. "We are solid throughout the positions and are demonstrating the readiness to play. The boys are working daily to put the team needs ahead of individual accomplishments. We are approaching the league one game at a time and respect the fact that on any given day the team that plays together as a unit and has the appropriate mental focus will fair well. Wins-ties-losses are in preparation for playoffs. Our expectations are that we progress from one opportunity to another. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of the game and work collectively to reinforce what is "working" and correct what is needing attention. If at the end of the day the boys are not having fun then we have not done our job."
The Wildcats are a selfless, team-first bunch that's played together forever both at the high school level and club echelon. For all their individual talent, Westview is a squad that prides itself on the collective success of the team, not the solo artist. They know their roles and play within their abilities.
"In all honesty, all of the players that have been selected were so for various reasons," Fresh said. "The boys collectively represent a strong group that has demonstrated strong technical skills, tactical awareness, athletic ability, character and discipline The boys have been very responsive to training sessions and willing to work through the group dynamics that typically develop when competition is strong. I am incredibly proud of each one of the young men that represent the varsity men's program."