First published in the Dec. 17 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
By Nathan Cambridge
The South Pasadena High School boys’ soccer team had a mass exodus after last season, when a large portion of the roster graduated.
So this season, it will be time to reboot and reload.
“We’re trying to rebuild the team because last [season] we lost 12 seniors, so it’s a lot of new players with some old players. So we are trying to put it together — all the new players with the returning players. It’s a little bit of work right now. In the preseason it’s OK for us to make changes, or whatever we need to work on, before the [Rio Hondo] league starts,” veteran head coach Juan Zurita said. “It’s a process we have to work on before league starts.”
The Tigers have their eyes on the CIF Southern Section playoffs.
“I do believe we can qualify for CIF,” said Zurita, who has held his position since 1993. “We’ve got a pretty talented group of returning players that should be able to handle that pressure. Playing varsity demands a lot of skill and also strength. Sometimes it’s pretty aggressive playing varsity. The new players have got to understand and feel that pressure of playing varsity, which is different than playing JV.”
The South Pasadena players will be expected to support one another, regardless of where they start out.
“I’m a coach that does not lock down his players. If my defender is on a breakaway, he can go all the way up there and score a goal. That’s fine with me, as long as we understand that if the defender goes up, the midfield has to cover back. We do the rotation as we play. They understand the way we play.”
Zurita sees strength in his midfield, and channeling that may take some humility and tactical orientation.
“At midfield we have a lot of skillful players. Sometimes when they are skillful players, you’ve got to try to take the ego out of each player and [get them to] play as a team player. That’s my work and I have to work with each one,” he said. “You cannot play by yourself against another 11 players. Sometimes there is a little bit of ego on each player that you have to break from the midfield up. You have to be strong and fast … but in midfield you have to have a little bit more sense to move the ball from defense to offense a little bit quicker so you can make the breakaways a little more effective than just kicking the ball up [the field]. I don’t play kickball.”
The Tigers have a solid core of returners who were sophomores last season, including captain Tilo Andac. Zurita foresees the bulk of the scoring to come from Andac and Shota Maekawa.
“Tilo is a defender from the beginning, but he’s so aggressive playing midfield or forward [he can do] with no problem,” Zurita said. “He probably is going to make most of the goals, along with Shota. [Maekawa] is a returning player. He’s another really aggressive player. Small, but he can kick with both legs.”
Henry Fogel and Oscar Cassidy will also be relied on heavily.
“They are very talented players,” Zurita said. “They play a high level of soccer. Among those four [juniors], they will probably carry the whole team in making things happen.”
Sophomore Sawyer Fox and junior Aidan Kinney will be the goalkeepers. Fox will start, with Kinney backing him up but also contributing in other ways.
“Aidan is pretty good playing forward,” Zurita said. “He’s fast. He will play both a little bit.”
The coach sees La Cañada, Temple City and Monrovia as the top competition in the Rio Hondo League, which is the gateway to the postseason.
“My main goal is to play good soccer during the week and then qualify for CIF,” Zurita said. “That is our main goal, for sure.”