A quarterfinal-round loss in the Central Coast Section playoffs did little to dampen what the Sobrato High boys soccer team accomplished this season. The Bulldogs, who finished 14-3-2, saw their season end to Branham High 3-2 on Feb. 18 in a Division II matchup.
After winning the Blossom Valley Athletic League West Division championship last year, the Bulldogs continued their stellar play with a second-place finish in the tougher Santa Teresa East Division this season. They went 8-2 in division play, a point away from earning a share of the league title with Mount Pleasant.
More impressively, Sobrato did it after losing starting goalkeeper Anthony Nevarez just before the start of the league season. It took a couple of matches before the Bulldogs found a capable replacement in senior Victor Cedano, who wasn’t seeing much time in the field as a backup striker but had previous goalie experience.
Cedano needed some prodding to play the position, but once he got on board, he delivered. In the final six league matches, Cedano recorded four shutouts and allowed just two goals in that span.
“Goalkeeper was our biggest fear going into the [league] season because we had no one [official backup] at the varsity or JV levels,” Bulldogs coach Jeff Brown said. “But Victor has been amazing. He’s got one speed and it’s 100%. He’s fearless and he just stepped it up and got better every game.”
That was the story of the Bulldogs’ season, as they peaked in the second half of league play, avenging their only two defeats to Mount Pleasant and Andrew Hill. It was the 2-1 win over Andrew Hill on Feb. 8 that represented one of the seminal moments of the season.
Senior Jordan Hay scored the game-winner with 90 seconds remaining on Senior Night, leaving the team and its 12 seniors in jubilation afterward.
“There’s no way Jordan will ever forget that goal,” Brown said. “It’s something we’ll all remember.”
In the regular-season finale, Paolo Mancera had a hat trick in a 6-0 win over crosstown rival Live Oak. Mancera has been dynamic along with Jose Gomero, who typically draws plenty of the opposing team’s attention. Entering the Branham match, Mancera led the team with 21 goals and Gomero had 15 goals and 10 assists.
“Jose is a menace whether he scores or not,” Brown said. “He’s extremely unpredictable and that makes it tough on our opponents.”
Phi Nguyen has been dynamite like usual, distributing the ball to where it needs to go with remarkable accuracy.
“Phi has been playing out of his mind lately,” Brown said. “Phi is the most humble and dedicated player I think I’ve ever coached. He’s always trying to get better, and I never have to be hard on him because he’s extremely hard on himself, which is a coach’s dream.”
Owen Schwalen, Bobby Romero, Emiliano Santana and Sergio Garcia Medina have been stellar on the backline.
“Owen is fast and strong, and once his confidence is up, it’s game on,” Brown said.
Ornob Barua has been strong wherever Brown has put him on the field: up top, in the middle or in the back.
“Ornob is super versatile and has won Surf Club twice with his club team which most players only dream of going to,” Brown said.
Sophomore Yair Galan Lopez, who had seven goals and six assists prior to the playoffs, has earned Brown’s praise for his tenacious play.
“I can only imagine what Yair is going to be like in his junior and senior seasons,” Brown said. “A little more maturity and he’s going to be unstoppable.”
Midfielders Kyle Ton, Ian Nave and Diego Chakarevski have been key in their roles, as has TJ Pratt. Chakarevski and Pratt are two of the bigger players on the team and solid on the ball. Brown said Ton is “extremely skilled and smart on the ball with tremendous vision.”
When Nevarez—who was last year’s West Valley Division goalkeeper of the year—got injured in the Pioneer game Jan. 7, Brown said the morale of the team took a big hit.
“It was just a dark time, like a cloud parked itself over Sobrato soccer,” he said. “But we didn’t realize we had this diamond in the rough in Victor who has done great. Losing Anthony was hard, but it forced us to play faster, smarter, more united and to be honest, I think it made us a better team because of all those things.”
Brown has also been impressed with the team’s drive and focus in the latter stages of the season.
“I’m not sure we were playing with much heart in the beginning,” he said. “I think they were suffering from an identity crisis, but they found themselves. They played their best in the second half of the league season to the end.”