As the fall sports chapter comes to an end and winter sports take over at South Pasadena High School, boys varsity soccer enters the field with high expectations.
And if last Thursday is any indication, they are going to be just fine. Last Thursday, the Tigers took on a weakened Mark Kepple High School at home and whipped them 9-0 in the first preseason game of the year. The non-conference game was over almost before it started with Henry Barbera scoring two goals in the first 20 minutes of the game.
In fact, Barbera, a senior, who attributed his ability to score at will by having six goals by game end, said it was all because the team is playing better this year as a single unit.
“I feel pretty good,” Barbera said after the match. “It’s about the team play. I think this year we are connecting a lot more passes than we were last year. Last year was a lot of kicking and running, This year, there is more connecting. We are playing more as a network of players rather than just one man on the field. I think the team did it. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
And that is exactly what head Coach Juan Zurita, in his 25th year of coaching boys varsity at So Pas High School, wants to hear.
“We did good today but we can do better,” Zurita said after the Kepple game. “Make no mistake about it, we did OK, but we can do better as a team.”
Earlier in the week, Zurita spoke about the upcoming season as a chance to mature as a team and go deep into the CIF postseason.
“Every year soccer is different,” Zurita said. “Last year, we were a little more mature than this year. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores this year. Last year we had more seniors. Every season is different.”
Last year, the boys varsity made it to the quarterfinals in CIF and two years before that, they made it to the finals, only to lose to Monrovia, 1-0.
So Pas High boys varsity soccer has been respectable over the years, but this year, Zurica has set his sights higher. He’s looking for a championship.
“You are always hopeful that you can get deep into CIF,” he said. “You work to get the best out of your team. You move players around when you have to and this year I’m striving for patience because they can play, but they are young and that can make a difference.”
Also, the boys varsity squad lost a prolific scorer in the history of the school when Jack Renken graduated. Renkin scored 21 goals last season and he will be missed, Zurita said.
Zurita has tuned his sights to two young midfielders Caleb Lee, a sophomore and Kai Endo, a junior and a recent transplant from Japan.
“They are both very talented and can play,” Zurita said. “Kai is a skillful player and an offensive threat as a midfielder and forward. Caleb was on the varsity as a freshman and he’s pretty good as a pure forward. He has the ability to score like Renken did. I need for them both to work on their patience.” Both did not play in the Kepple game because they had prior commitments.
Zurita acknowledged he is an “aggressive offensive-minded” coach and that the defense will always be there.
“We play pretty good skill-wise,” he said. “We play smooth and we are technically proficient. We need to work on our ability to avoid contact in the midfield. That is a key factor along with pace control of the ball.”
One of the lessons Zurita, who was a professional soccer player for the Aztecs, tries to teach his players is moving without the ball.
“Soccer is a pretty unique sport,” he said. “Players have to understand how to move without having the ball. That is very important to any soccer player. And it’s the key to our team, moving without the ball. It makes the other teams guess what you are going to do and keeps them off-guard.”
So, was the first preseason game against Mark Kepple any indication of how good this team is?
“No, not really,” he said. “We did OK, but we must have shot the ball 30 times toward the goal, maybe more and we have 9 points. We should’ve had more. But It was OK. It’s a good start. But we have much work ahead of us.”
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