Sobrato High boys soccer coach Jeff Brown said he firmly believes in the talent and makeup of his players. The team has given him legitimate reasons for optimism, as the Bulldogs are off to their best start in nearly a decade (they were 3-2-0 through their first five matches).
“If everyone can get on the field at the same time, I think we can really turn into something special,” said Brown, who spent the last two years as the Sobrato junior varsity coach. “ We have an extremely talented team that has been plagued by injuries and eligibility issues. But these boys are awesome. Their dedication and attitude is super refreshing.”
Ryan Nave, a senior fullback, possesses strong ball-control skills, speed and an unmatched enthusiasm for the game.
“I get motivated just watching him play,” Brown said.
Hector “Andre” Gutierrez, a junior outside midfielder who can also play fullback, has been coming on strong and scored an important goal in a 3-2 win over the King’s Academy on Dec. 8. Sobrato has three seniors—Nave, Eduardo Gonzalez and Max Brown—who played on the team as sophomores. Brown suffered a season-ending injury in a Dec. 18 match, one of the many hurdles the team has faced this season. Gonzalez, a senior center midfielder, has excellent ball-control skills along with a rifle for a shot.
“It’s nearly impossible to take the ball away from him,” Jeff Brown said.
Nathan Arnott, a center midfielder and striker, is expected to return from a leg injury in January. Dylan Gallipeo, an all-BVAL West Valley Division first team selection last year, has come back stronger than ever. Gallipeo possesses a strong soccer acumen and knows when to speed things up and when to slow them down. He also has speed and an excellent touch, making him one of the team’s best all-around players.
Gabriel Cornejo, a junior wing, has deft ball-control skills and vision, making him a threat to score or make a play that leads to a score on a moment’s notice. Vincent Mancera, a junior center defender, has taken a leadership role on the team and “is basically paving the way to be a captain for next season.”
Jacobo Orozco Rodriguez, a senior outside attacker, is expected to be eligible to play on Jan. 3 after transferring to Sobrato for the current school year. Braedon Hoge, a senior goalkeeper, has taken on a huge responsibility converting to play in between the pipes this season. A field player on his club team, Hoge has done been solid in providing steady and consistent play as the team’s last line of defense.
“Braedon is so unbelievably dedicated and soft-spoken,” Brown said. “He never misses a practice and is a great kid. I know I’m asking a lot of him to play a position he’s somewhat unfamiliar with, but he’s doing a nice job for us.”
The Bulldogs play a possession-type game, relying on quick, pinpoint passes. Brown said assistant coach Stuart Harte, who played professionally in England, has been huge in helping the players make the necessary adjustments to play a possession-type game. Whereas a lot of high school teams like to put their fastest guy up top and play a dump and chase game, the Bulldogs plan to employ a more technical approach that should keep opposing teams on the defensive.
“Stuart really knows how to get the boys to play that style, and it’s a beautiful style of play we’re going to stick with,” Brown said.
Brown, who graduated from Mitty in the mid-1980s and still to this day keeps in contact and hangs out with some of his former teammates, said he wants to build a culture at Sobrato where the players have such a memorable experience that they’ll want to come back and play the alumni games every year. In fact, Sobrato had an alumni game on Dec. 22, the first time that has occurred for the boys soccer program in recent memory.
“I want these boys to have a similar experience here to what I had in high school,” Brown said “I think we’re getting there and the program is definitely on the right track. The JV team looks extremely strong and I know we have a huge amount of freshmen coming in next year.”
Brown had each of the players sign a contract before the season started, things that ranged from respect to placing their bags near the bench in a certain way on game day. For the players, it’s all about conducting themselves in the proper manner with a professional-type attitude that involves working hard, having fun and never giving up. To keep things fun, the team gets to play music during practices.
“If the boys act up, I often threaten to switch the playlist to Taylor Swift,” Brown said. “I haven’t had to go there yet.”
Brown, who is also a coach with Orchard Valley and has coached locally for 11 years,
said it’s been a pleasure coaching this year’s group.
“You have teams that make it tough on you and you have teams that you thoroughly enjoy coaching, and this is one of those teams you thoroughly enjoy coaching,” he said.