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The Gladiators spent more time on defense than offense, surrendering four first-half goals in Tuesday's season opener

PMG PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Gladstone defense Logan Greco knocks the ball away from Stayton's Santos Navarro during the first half of Tuesday's non-conference boys soccer game at Gladstone's Dick Baker Stadium.Gladstone High School's boys soccer team was no match for the Stayton Eagles in Tuesday season opener at Dick Baker Stadium.

Stayton's Jayden Esparza had two goals and an assist, and goalkeeper Ivan Pelayo handled everything that the Gladiators sent his way, leading the No. 2-ranked Eagles to a 5-0 non-conference road win.

Pablo Aceves, Nolan Cramer, and Israel Ramirez also scored goals for the Eagles, who overwhelmed Gladstone with their speed early on and found the back of the net four times in the first 32 minutes to all but put the game out of reach before halftime.

Gladstone's scoring chances were few and far between as the Gladiators spent most of the game at the opposite end of the field, playing defense and trying to minimize the pressure that Stayton heaped on senior keeper Nate Burlingame.

"I think we need a little more practice with offense, maybe," Gladstone senior defender Logan Greco said. "And defense, just working as a team. But I think we'll get there in the next few games."

It wasn't the start that the Gladiators were looking for, but this is a team that is having to do a significant amount of retooling after graduating seven seniors from last year's 6-6-3 team.

Most of Gladstone's experience is at the defensive end, starting with Burlingame in goal, and junior Dalton Crosley, senior Derek Johnson, and Greco anchoring the backline.

The Gladiators' other starters included three seniors (Danny Alejo, Sebastion Cummins, and Ulysses Vizcaino-Cervantes), two juniors (Rebel Hall and Brady McNett), one sophomore (Jack Combs), and one freshman (Hudson Winfrey).

"Even though we have eight seniors on our roster, we are still a young team and these guys are learning every time they step on the field," Gladiators coach Ryan Hardwick said. "We're still kind of putting the puzzle pieces together, putting people in the right positions, and learning what we need to do as a team.

"It's not the start that we wanted, but it's the first game of the season and we'll learn from this and use it as a building block."

Advantage: Eagles

Stayton's first goal came in the 11th minute when Esparza, the sophomore midfielder, made a run down the right wing and then set up Ramirez for a shot from inside the 16-yard box that made it 1-0.

Esparza made it 2-0 in the 13th minute after he got tripped by Johnson inside the 16 and scored on the ensuing penalty kick.

The Eagles then pulled away with goals by Cramer in the 26th minute, Aceves in the 32nd minute, and, finally, Esparza off a Gladstone turnover in the 47th minute.

"I would have liked to have seen us anticipate the speed that Stayton played with a little better," Hardwick said. "If we had done that, it would have been a different game in the first half and we would have been a little bit more prepared. Our guys just weren't ready for the speed and the intensity that Stayton came out with."

Ideally, Hardwick envisions a Gladstone team that presses the attack and spends more time on offense than defense.

"It's been hard trying to find that guy who is just a 'pure' goalscorer, which is why we're kind of going with an attack-by-committee approach," Hardwick said. "We're not going to sacrifice our defense for offense, but we definitely are looking to push the tempo, push the attack, and we want to score goals.

"We understand that may mean giving up some goals, but we want to get forward and we want to get on the attack."

Learning experience

The Gladiators struggled to sustain much of an attack against Stayton. They earned a couple of corner kicks and one of their best scoring opportunities came in the 57th minute off a free kick from about 30 yards out that Vizcaino-Cervantes drove high and wide of the frame.

Other than that, there wasn't a lot for the Gladstone to cheer about.

"We're trying to integrate a lot of new guys into a new, three-back system and see what works and who fits where," said Johnson, the senior co-captain. "We definitely came out the second half and held things down a little better.

"We got more aggressive in the air and eliminated some of the mistakes we were making in the first half."

Greco, the other senior co-captain, saw enough good things in the second half to suggest that the Gladiators are at least pointed in the right direction.

"The most I can ask of everyone is to keep their heads up, stay positive and grow as a team," Greco said. "This was just a learning experience for us.

"We've got some new freshmen out here and a few sophomores and juniors that are playing in their first varsity game, so I'd say we did pretty well the second half."

Hardwick is glad to have the first one out of the way, even if it was a loss.

"You always want that good showing, but we purposefully pushed for the hardest non-conference schedule that we could get," he said. "I've often said, 'If weren't not going to play the best, we can't be the best.' This game matters, but at the same time, we're using it as an opportunity to grow.

"We really don't have too lofty of expectations this year. We're relying on the leadership of the guys that are returning and then we're just expecting to do what we do every year — compete in the Tri-Valley League and see who comes out on top."

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