Brent Bish and Luis Cabral spend most of their time during soccer matches at opposite ends of the field. But together they are the reason Esperanza High School, the defending 3-A champion that saw its 61-match streak without a loss end this season, is again No. 1 in the 3-A poll.
Esperanza's streak ended Dec. 21 against Canyon when an Aztec player accidentally kicked the ball into the Canyon goal. Later in the season, Pacifica dealt Esperanza another loss. Along the way, Esperanza has had so many injuries that the Aztecs have played some games with six starters missing.
The Aztecs (9-1, 19-2-1), who began the season ranked No. 1 in the Southern Section 3-A poll, returned to the top position two weeks ago and have clinched the Empire League title.
Cabral plays sweeper for the Aztecs; he is the last defender save the goalkeeper. Bish plays striker; he is the center forward, and his job is to score.
"We don't have (as good a) team (as) we did last year," said John Coppage, Esperanza coach, who lost 14 of 20 players from last season. "But between (Bish and Cabral) and some others, we're back on top of the rankings despite all the injuries we've had."
Cabral, a senior, is the mainstay of a defense that has 17 shutouts this season. A second-team All-Southern Section selection last season, he led the defense to a bundle of Southern Section records--including most shutouts in a season (22) and fewest goals allowed in a season (7). In the three seasons Cabral has started at sweeper, the Aztecs have 55 shutouts.
Bish, a senior who was named first-team All-Southern Section last season, has scored 20 goals this season, a number more impressive because it is nearly half his team's 44-goal total, and because he seldom plays with fewer than two players marking him.
About the only times Bish and Cabral get together on the field other than warmups or postgame celebrations are for set plays off throw-ins or corner kicks, when the Aztecs try to take advantage of Cabral's strong leg (he scored a goal this season from 50 yards).
Cabral seems to have the potential to be a big scorer--he scored eight goals last season and has two this season--but he has never thought of abandoning defender for the glamour of striker or another goal-scoring position.
When he was younger, he used to go with his father to play soccer in Yorba Regional Park near his home. While other players hot-dogged it or tried to get into position to score, Cabral hung out by the goal, ready to take on all comers, much to the dismay of his father.
"He would get mad when I stayed back and tell me to go up," Cabral said. "But something kept me there, like a rubber band holding me.
"I think God made me to defend."
That would be fine with Coppage.
"He's probably been 80% of our defense the last three years, and he's the most fluid player I've ever coached," Coppage said.
One thing Cabral does to prepare for games is look over his scrapbook on nights before matches. He looks for past games against the next day's team, and picks his target.
"I look at who scored last time, and the next day I pay more attention to them," said Cabral, who has not yet decided on a college.
"They come down two on one and I take it away," Cabral said. "I don't know how I do it. I get between them and let them make a mistake."
Said Bish: "I'd say he's the best defender in the county. He's the best I've seen."
Defense has taken on particular importance this season. The Aztecs scored 87 goals through the section final last season; they have 44 this season with a week to play in the regular season.
"If we didn't have this defense, we wouldn't be winning," Bish said.
Naturally, the converse is true.
And when Esperanza needs offense, Bish provides it.
During one week this season when the Aztecs were missing three starters and Bish was the only regular starter on the front line, he led them to league victories over El Dorado and Katella, scoring all three Aztec goals in the two shutouts.
"We had a walk-on football player and we put him on the front line, then a sophomore and there was Brent," Coppage said. "He was like a quarterback who's playing with a wide receiver and a tight end who have just been traded from another team. He's never seen them before, and you have to have a certain cohesiveness to make it work."
Bish made it work.
Coppage is almost resentful of the attention received by other players who have more goals.
"He's three times the player of some of those others," Coppage said. "He doesn't score five or six goals in 9-0 games. And it's not like people don't know who he is."
Cabral grew up playing club soccer and played on the varsity as a freshman.
Bish didn't make the varsity his freshman year, so he played on the freshman-sophomore team.
After that season, he began playing club soccer in the off-season and working on the skills that would earn him a position on the varsity as a sophomore.
"He has tremendous speed and he's incredibly quick," Coppage said. "But the biggest thing is he's so durable for 6 feet (actually 5-feet 11-inches) and muscular. He's strong and always moving. He doesn't get hit a lot even though the defense just hacks and chops him up."
Said Cabral: "He puts them in when we need them. Some other guys come through too, but he always puts them in."
Bish, who also plays baseball and said he will wait until after the season to choose a college, remains somewhat surprised at what he has accomplished.
"I never thought I'd become this good," he said.
Earlier this season, he probably didn't think the chances of repeating as Southern Section champions were good either, but that has changed.
"I think we have a real good chance," Bish said. "I seriously think we're going to win it."