Los Angeles Times

Cortez sandwich and soccer artist

The place the Estancia High boys' soccer team frequents is where Abarham Cortez, one of its players, works. Subway is the spot the Eagles bond off the field.

Coaches and teammates say they enjoy watching Cortez make them a sandwich. They joke that he's a sandwich artist after all.

The plays Cortez has been making on the field lately are also artistic. Those are what the Eagles admire the most, him serving up goals with his right or left foot, not foot-long sandwiches behind a counter.

Cortez can score with either foot, and with his head. He used his head to produce a game-winning goal in one of the Eagles' two CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoff matches last week. On the other goal, he performed a scissor kick.

The Subway diet is working for Cortez, a senior midfielder, and Estancia. The Eagles (16-5-5) are making their first semifinal appearance in 14 seasons on Tuesday, when they play host to Baldwin Park (19-4-1) at 5 p.m.

Out of the four teams in the semifinals, the Eagles have taken the longest path, having to start in the wild-card round. They aren't league champions like Baldwin Park (Valle Vista), Pasadena Marshall (Alpha) and Santiago (Garden Grove).

Looking back, Cortez believes failing to win the Orange Coast League helped him and the team. How the Eagles poorly closed out league play left a bad taste in their mouths.

Cortez admits he had a lot do with it. He hasn't been 100% healthy because of a right gluteal strain. Then his coach, Robert Castellano, got on Cortez's butt.

With two matches left in league, the Eagles stayed in the hunt for a title, until they met defending league champion Godinez and suffered a 4-0 loss, their worst of the season. The match on the road wasn't one of Cortez's finer moments.

One match remained, at home against Calvary Chapel. By the time Estancia stepped on the field against a winless team, third place was the best it could finish. That mattered to Cortez because the Eagles weren't playing for first or second and it affected his play.

"I wasn't giving it my all," Cortez said.

The coaching staff noticed. And at halftime, in front of the entire team, the coaches called out Cortez, who is 6-foot-2 and the tallest player on the team.

"If I don't see somebody performing to his ability, I'm going to tell him," Castellano said. "When he came back to practice the next day [after we tied Calvary Chapel, 2-2], I think he was [upset]. He came back a little pouty. He took [his frustrations] out on his [teammates], he took them out on his game. He just started playing like Abarham, he started to use his abilities, to use his strengths.

"Abarham is such a great player. The sky is the limit for him. Since the playoffs, Abarham has been our MVP. He's been putting his team on his back and he thinks he's Superman now."

The scolding woke up Cortez. He moved forward, and even though the team saw Cortez backpedal in the opening minute of the playoffs, it was to pull off a scissor kick goal in the box.

The goals kept coming for Cortez after the host Eagles beat Pomona Diamond Ranch, 2-0, in the wild-card round. They moved on to the first round, the same round where the Eagles' season abruptly ended last season at Hacienda Heights Los Altos.

In stoppage time at Thermal Desert Mirage, Cortez used his head to lift Estancia to a 1-0 win. The goal secured a berth into the second round at home against third-seeded Apple Valley Granite Hills. The match also happened to land on Cortez's 18th birthday.

This past Tuesday Cortez celebrated his special day on the field in stunning style. He scored the game-winning goal with his left foot in the 64th minute and the Eagles pulled off the 2-1 upset.

After he led Estancia to the quarterfinals for the first time in Castellano's five seasons, Castellano didn't give Cortez a birthday gift. He didn't even take him to Subway.

"He got us the win. That's all he gets," said Castellano, who later found out some players joined Cortez at Hooters.

Castellano took Cortez and the rest of the team back to their favorite place to eat on Thursday. Before they played at Los Angeles Windward in the quarterfinals, the Eagles stopped at the Subway near Windward.

Cortez must not have eaten enough. The player who had recorded three of the team's five goals in the first three postseason matches failed to score.

"My team won and that's all that matters," Cortez said with a laugh after Estancia trounced Windward, 5-2.

Standing in the way of Cortez and Estancia is Baldwin Park. He knows the Eagles are one win away from playing for the program's third section crown.

"If he keeps on playing like this," Castellano said of Cortez, "we're going to win the whole thing."

Abarham Cortez

Born: Feb. 25, 1996

Hometown: Costa Mesa

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 170 pounds

Sport: Soccer

Year: Senior

Coach: Robert Castellano

Favorite food: Seafood

Favorite movie: "A Haunted House"

Favorite athletic moment: Producing a scissor kick goal in the Eagles' 2-0 win against Pomona Diamond Ranch in the wild-card round of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs.

Week in review: Cortez scored two goals, the first in a 2-0 wild-card round win in the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs against Pomona Diamond Ranch and the second in a 1-0 first-round win against Thermal Desert Mirage.

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