HUNTINGTON BEACH - Perhaps Thursday's meeting between Fountain Valley and Marina was a precursor of things to come in the upcoming Sunset League boys' soccer season.
The Barons and Vikings clashed at Marina in the championship final of the Marina Holiday Classic in a game that was tight throughout. The difference in the first of three regular season meetings between the league rivals was established early, when senior center/midfielder Steven Mendoza punched in the game's only goal for a 1-0 Vikings' victory.
It marked the first time that Marina had won its own tournament in the 12 years that Jeff Schofield has coached the Vikings.
"I thought it was an exciting game, very evenly-match game," Schofield said. "[Fountain Valley Coach Jason Smith] and I talked before the game and we both said that this could be a preview of what to expect in league play. The teams in our league are evenly matched and have similar records. It should be a dog fight.
"Our guys played great today. Our defense was great, again, as it has been all season. Fountain Valley's a very good team and it's nice to get the title."
Smith said Marina's intensity at the outset of the game, set the tone early.
"They came out and played stronger than we did," he said. "They were able to get that one [goal[ off a free kick and made it stand. Goals aren't going to come easily in this [Sunset] League, and today proved just that."
Both teams had shots on goal that missed the mark in each half. Marina senior goalie David Elias, last year the defensive player of the year in the Sunset League, registered two saves. The Vikings, now 9-1-4, posted their 10th shutout of the season.
The Vikings gave up just one goal in the tournament.
"David's been a leader for us out there and he sets the tone for our team," Schofield said. "Our defense really has been our strength this year and it came up big again today.
Mendoza scored off a free kick from senior Josue Medina. It was his only goal of the tournament and second of the season.
"I saw the ball cross from the opposite side and just went after it," Mendoza said. "It felt great when I hit it and it felt really great to see it go in."
Twenty-one teams vied for the tournament title including two other Sunset League teams, Huntington Beach and Newport Harbor. Marina advanced after getting past Lakewood (2-1), Arroyo Grande (1-0) and in the semifinals, shut out Dominguez (2-0). The Vikings also played Buena Park to a scoreless tie on Wednesday but advanced over the Coyotes. Fountain Valley (8-3-3) defeated Tustin (4-0), Long Beach Poly (2-) and in the semifinals edged Newport Harbor, 1-0. The Barons and Whittier played to a 1-1 tie on Tuesday.
Dominguez took third place and Newport Harbor was fourth.
Both Marina and Fountain Valley launch Sunset League play next Wednesday. The Vikings host Huntington Beach at 3 p.m. while the Barons again take on Newport Harbor in a 4:45 p.m. game on the Sailors' home field.
"There's a lot of parity in this league from top to bottom," Smith said. "Edison, obviously, is the team to beat. They're the two-time defending champions. But the key to winning this league is to come out and play with confidence, get on a quick win streak and then ride it through. It should be a really great race."