City Section Soccer Notebook : Semifinal Matchups Viewed as Tribute to Local Programs

Times Staff Writer

Moments after Jaime Leal's sudden-death goal Tuesday at Poly advanced Monroe into the City Section soccer semifinals, winning Coach Les Sasvary spoke with Poly counterpart Frank Sandoval during postgame handshakes.

"Someone had to win it," Sasvary said after the 2-1 victory. "We'll try to do it for the Valley."

If they won't, another Valley team probably will.

Three of the four teams in this afternoon's semifinals are local. Sasvary's Vikings (10-2-3) will play host to Reseda (10-4-2), and Chatsworth (14-4-2) travels to San Pedro to face the defending champion. Both games are at 2:30.

Valley coaches do not, however, want a repeat of the 1980-81 season, the last time three of the final four teams were from the Valley. The fourth team, Garfield, went on to win the championship.

Valley teams have not won a City title outright since 1982-83, when Cleveland defeated Van Nuys in the championship game. Kennedy was co-champion with Garfield in 1984-85.

"What's happened here is the teams from the West Valley have really accelerated their programs in the last couple of years," Sasvary said.

Much of the improvement for teams from the Valley can be attributed to the area's strong youth programs, especially at Winnetka Park, from which Chatsworth and Reseda benefit. All but two of Chatsworth's players have played at Winnetka Park. And those two grew up in other countries.

"The kids involved at Winnetka come to us with good fundamental skills, so I can spend less time on fundamentals and more time on other things," Chatsworth Coach Richard Doran said.

But while the West Valley League is having success (with Chatsworth and Reseda in the semifinals, an all-West Valley championship game is possible), the traditionally powerful Mid-Valley League, with the exception of Monroe, is not faring as well. Kennedy, a semifinalist two of the past three seasons, failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1979-80. The league's No. 2 representative, San Fernando, lost to Belmont, 2-0, in the opening round of the playoffs.

"I'd have to say that with the way things have turned out, we have the strongest league around," Reseda Coach George Hull said. "I think any one of our top four teams could have made it to the semifinals."

Playoff experience: Although this is the furthest a Monroe soccer team has advanced in the playoffs, Sasvary, who started the school's program in 1977, is no stranger to playoffs. A former gymnast who participated in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Sasvary has coached the Vikings' gymnastics team to nine City titles.

"My first gymnastic championship was very sweet for me," Sasvary said. "I wanted to start the soccer program because I grew up in Hungary and soccer is such a big sport there."

The most experienced Valley team in the playoffs, Chatsworth, has been in the semifinals three times in the 1980s. The Chancellors lost to Garfield in the 1981 championship game.

This season's title game will be played Friday evening, Jan. 22, at an undetermined site.

Add Chatsworth: A key to Chatsworth's 2-1 win over Belmont in the quarterfinals was the play of halfback Ron Mertzel, who was injured and ailing--15 stitches over an eye and the flu.

"He missed practice Monday and I didn't figure he'd be playing," said Doran, who has coached Chatsworth to seven league titles in his eight years there. "He played about 80% of the game. At one point he wasn't looking too good so I pulled him out, but a couple minutes later he asked me to get him back in the game."

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