Newport Harbor High romped through the first half of the Sunset League boys' soccer season last year with five road wins, and then "the bottom dropped out," as head coach Ali Khosroshahin puts it, with five straight losses knocking the Sailors down to third place.
They're adamant that won't happen again this year, that they'll take another super start — 4-0 following Friday evening's 1-0 upset at Edison — and build upon it.
Newport Harbor (8-7-3 overall) used an early goal off a corner kick, several huge saves by goalkeeper Emilio Carbajal and tight defensive organization to take control of the Sunset race, handing defending champion Edison (11-4-2, 3-1-0 in league) just its second defeat in the last nine games.
Sophomore Jack Starnes played hero, scoring the sixth-minute goal and then clearing two shots off the goal line as the Sailors posted its third league shutout.
"What we keep telling the guys is just do your jobs," Khosroshahin said afterward. "I haven't felt like this about a group for a long time. ... The guys have bought in. They're drinking the Kool-Aid. When guys believe, you can make stuff happen."
The Sailors had to hold off an Edison side that had more of the ball, more of the game and pinned their visitors inside their defensive third much of the second half. Defenders Tyler Beatag and midfielders Kevin Soltero and Alvin Mancilla repeatedly came up big, and Carbajal was up to nearly every challenge.
Edison, ranked No. 8 in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll, moved the ball well in the middle third and around the perimeter, with Dustin Voorhees and Zac Ingalls doing fine work, but struggled to penetrate until about midway through the second half.
"We put high pressure on them in their defensive zone a little late in the game," Chargers coach Charlie Breneman said. "We should have done that earlier and tried to get behind the defense or take guys around the corner. And the quality of our decisions in the box weren't great."
Newport Harbor has been streaking since Beatag and forward Angel Ariza, transfers from JSerra, became eligible with the start of league play. Once Ariza's relationship with playmaker Alex Enriquez has matured, the Sailors' attack will be tough to defend.
Starnes struck with Newport Harbor's first shot of the game. Enriquez, at the near post, nodded Mancilla's corner kick from the left into the middle, where Starnes stood unmarked. The finish was simple.
His was even better at the other end, keeping Kai Peterson's header from an Ingalls corner kick out of the net, then clearing Peterson's rebound. Carbajal did the rest, making seven saves — with two big second-half stops on Voorhees, the second with Dylan Zankich applying pressure, and another on a dipping Jack Morrell free kick — and cutting off several dangerous balls into his box.
The Sailors can claim a fifth league win Wednesday at home against Marina, and they're confident they won't fall apart afterward.
"It's history, right?" said Khosroshahin, who took charge of the program last season after building Cal State Fullerton women's program into a mid-major power, then winning an NCAA title with USC's women. "We talk about the guys from last year setting the tone, trying to change the culture.
"That's all we talked about last year — changing the culture — and now it's about producing."