Sobrato High boys soccer coach Jeff Brown remains cautiously optimistic the team could be in the midst of a special season. The Bulldogs had an impressive 7-0-1 record before entering BVAL West Valley Division play, including victories over traditionally strong programs such as Willow Glen, Pioneer and Overfelt.
So why isn’t Brown—who is in his fourth season as the Sobrato coach—doing cartwheels over perhaps the team’s best start in program history?
“We’ve had good preseasons (non-league results) in the past, but I’m always leery of a good preseason,” he said. “We’re off to a good start, but this is when it really counts going forward.”
Translation: Because the Bulldogs compete in a C division, only the winner receives an automatic berth into the Central Coast Section playoffs. Simply put, Sobrato needs to maintain and even improve upon its excellent play to win a division that includes competitive teams such as San Jose, Oak Grove and James Lick.
“We’ve been talking to the boys every game that they’re going to have to fight for it,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a fight to get out of this division.”
But that’s exactly what Brown and Mario Araujo—Sobrato’s previous head coach—have done to build and develop a culture within the program that was in need of a major overhaul.
“When Mario took over the program, it had been decimated,” Brown said. “No one showed up and it was some extremely difficult years that look like they are now turning around.”
The Bulldogs were down 3-1 to San Jose High in their league opener on Jan. 3 before ripping off three consecutive goals to post an impressive comeback victory.
Sobrato defeated Willow Glen 2-0 in the Homestead Cup Bronze Division championship match in December and also beat Pioneer, which Brown can’t recall the team ever doing. But it was a win against Overfelt which had Brown in jubilation afterward.
“That was the best game we’ve played,” he said. “It was really fast paced, and we had great formation, movement and defense. The boys just played really well.”
Coming off a Covid spring season in which it went 6-3-3 to tie for second place in the West Valley Division, Sobrato has elevated its play with a talented roster that includes a combination of quality forwards the likes Sobrato hasn’t had in a long time. Senior Christian Grave, sophomore Jose Gomero and freshman Yair Galan are dynamic, potent and difficult to stop.
Grave is one of the team’s captains along with senior defender Kyle Chimienti. Grave has a rocket shot and is coming off a solid season as the kicker for the football team. Gomero and Galan excel in the open field and possess key intangibles to go along with their vast physical skill set.
“Yair is the first true freshman striker Sobrato has ever seen,” Brown said. “Both he and Jose go to the goal and are not afraid to go to the goal. Yair, he’s probably pushing 15 goals. The kid scores like crazy. I can only dream where he’s going to be as a senior. They’re both extremely fast, and Jose is crafty, elusive and shoots on target instead of hitting it straight at the goalie—he’s hitting the post. Yair is fast and determined, and I would hate to defend somelike like that because they’re going to relentlessly play and come at you until you break. They’re really fun to watch with the determination they show.”
The team also returns standout Paolo Mancera, who had 14 goals and eight assists in just 12 games in the spring season and had a case for being the division’s Sophomore of the Year. Talent also abounds on the backline, where
Chimienti has “been on fire this year,” Brown said. Roberto Romero, Zane Sin, Emiliano Santana and Sergio Garcia are all playing vital roles as well.
“Bobby (Roberto) is always solid, Zane is fully back from an injury three years ago and Emiliano and Sergio show up all the time and you can always rely on them,” Brown said. “They’re awesome.”
The midfield has been led by Jordan Hay, who won MVP honors at the Homestead Cup, along with Riley Ludley and Ian Nave.
“Jordan is like a rock back there because he’s solid, plays smart and you can always rely on him,” Brown said. “We’re expecting good things out of Riley and Ian fights the whole time he’s out there. He’s lionhearted.”
The Bulldogs have two capable goalkeepers in Juan Rowda and Anthony Nevarez, who has earned the starting position entering league play. Brown chalks up the team’s strong start to the quality of talent at the school.
“It’s not like my coaching style has changed a whole lot,” he said. “We have a really good group of boys coming through Sobrato right now and it allows us to play a higher level of soccer. We can play out of the back and not just kickball. It’s a dream, to be honest with you. This is a special group of young men and I’m trying to cherish every moment of coaching them.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.