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Soccer Remains a Constant in His Life : High school: Katella’s Orizaba has found a home on the field despite several changes off it.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Armando Orizaba waited to hear his name. . . . and waited.

It was last spring during Spanish class at Katella High School, and the 1990 All-Empire League soccer team was being announced over the public-address system. Orizaba felt his name would be called, but because the Knights had finished fifth in league play, he wasn’t expecting much.

“I thought maybe I would get first team,” Orizaba said. “When all the teams had been announced, my name had not been mentioned. I figured maybe next year.”

Orizaba figured too soon. In another moment, his classmates were applauding, patting him on the back and congratulating him on being named the league’s most valuable player.

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It was a heady experience for Orizaba, whose childhood involved a good deal of adjustment.

He was born in Mexico, but at the age of 6, he came with his family to the United States, where he struggled to learn English and learned not to struggle with gangs.

To avoid the wrong people, Orizaba played soccer, which he learned from his father.

Now a senior, Orizaba already has had a successful high school career and is looking at a future that includes college, soccer and, maybe, another Empire League MVP award.

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“Soccer is my life,” said Orizaba, who is 5 feet 5, 140 pounds. “I want to play in college and, if possible, I want to be a professional.”

Given Orizaba’s ability, those might be more than idle dreams.

In his first three seasons on the varsity, Orizaba scored 32 goals. He scored 16 last season even though he was constantly defended by two or more players. Because the Knights were inexperienced, most opposing teams concentrated on Orizaba, who had been a first-team all-league selection as a sophomore. But he still was able to create opportunities.

Orizaba also is adept at scoring on direct kicks. He scored on six last season, including the game-winner against Baldwin Park in the final of the Brea-Olinda tournament.

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“Most teams are lucky to score three or four goals on direct kicks, and Armando had six,” Katella Coach Ray Smith said. “He’s an exceptional player.”

Orizaba was born into soccer. His father, Armando Sr., and his five uncles played for club teams in Mexico City.

Armando Sr. even tried out for America, a professional team in Mexico City, and survived until the final cut. Five months later, he brought his family to Santa Ana.

The change was tough for Armando Jr., who did not know English. Along with the language problems, he was wary of his neighborhood, which he said was plagued by gang activity.

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“It was a bad area, but I tried to stay away from the people who were trouble,” Orizaba said. “I really didn’t have any problems, but you never knew in that area.”

Soccer was the one thing that made him feel comfortable. His father played sweeper--a defensive position--for several club teams during the following years. Every weekend, the family would watch.

“It was big family outing,” Orizaba said. “I remember the time when they beat this team from New York on penalty kicks. He played great that day.”

Orizaba also was developing into a good player. He played in youth soccer leagues in the Santa Ana area until he was 11, when he joined a club team for players 18 and younger.

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Orizaba received constant coaching from his father, which helped him develop faster. After every game, Armando Sr. would give his son advice.

“My dad always joked with me that the day I could take him one-on-one, he would quit soccer,” Orizaba said. “It was always fun to play with him. We’d go to the park and he’d defend against me.”

Orizaba developed into a skilled offensive player. Although he was much smaller than other players, he had good instincts and quickness, which made him difficult to defend.

In fact, he became so good that by the time he was 13, he was playing on a club team with his father and uncles.

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“Armando has been playing against older players since he was very young,” Smith said. “That has made him a much better player. He’s far more advanced than the average high school player.”

Still, Orizaba was going to give up the sport in 1987.

During that fall, his parents got jobs working for a shirt manufacturer in Anaheim and moved the family to a neighborhood near Katella. Orizaba, who had been attending Santa Ana Valley High School, was faced with another change.

To make matters worse, Smith put Orizaba on the varsity, where he felt more isolated and intimidated.

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“Everyone seemed so big,” said Orizaba, who says he was 5-3 at the time. “I didn’t have any friends on the team at first. It was hard.”

Orizaba didn’t enjoy the sport any more and was uninterested in practice. His grades also began to suffer.

What turned him around was Smith.

“I knew Armando wasn’t happy,” Smith said. “The older guys liked him, but they used to tease him a lot. Armando kept asking me to put him on the frosh/soph team.

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“I was worried that he would fall in with the wrong people without soccer. I knew it would be better to keep on the varsity, where I could help him more. I told him we needed him to win the championship.”

The Knights did win the 1988 league title, their first since 1982. Orizaba scored two goals as a freshman.

After the season, Smith and Orizaba discussed what his goals should be for the the rest of his high school career. Smith also worked out a class schedule that included plenty of college prep classes.

“Coach Smith saved me,” Orizaba said. “He’s more than a coach; he’s a good friend.”

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Orizaba is finally at home and adjusted. He has even wandered outside the area of soccer. This year he was the placekicker for the Katella football team.

“It’s the first time in 20 years that I went after a student to play football,” Katella Coach Larry Anderson said.

Orizaba made five of six field goals and 18 of 19 extra points. Both his misses were the result of blocks.

He set a school record for longest field goal with a 48-yarder against Western and earned a spot on the all-league team.

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But the highlight of the season for Orizaba was his lone tackle.

“It was against El Dorado, and this guy breaks a kickoff up the sideline,” Anderson said. “Armando was the last guy, and he made the play. Not only that, but he got a mark on his helmet. The rest of the season, he would come up to me and show me that mark. He was really proud of it.”

Football was fun, but soccer remains Orizaba’s love. He has received letters from a few colleges, including UCLA.

If he doesn’t get a scholarship to a four-year school, Orizaba said he would play at a community college.

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“I know I’m going to play somewhere,” Orizaba said. “But right now I’m only concerned about this season. I want to win the league championship.”

And another MVP award will likely follow.

1990 BOYS’ SOCCER PREVIEW

Top teams: 1. Santa Ana, 2. Ocean View, 3. Orange, 4. Marina, 5. Katella, 6. El Toro, 7. Laguna Hills, 8. Edison, 9. Esperanza, 10. Mission Viejo (coaches’ preseason top 10).

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Top players: Jared Abe (Los Alamitos), Lee Beck (Orange Lutheran), Scott Carter (Santa Margarita), Luis Cevallos (Mater Dei), Brian Da Cuycuy (Sonora), Iain Doleman (El Toro), Troy Duncan (Esperanza), Marco Hernandez (Brea-Olinda), Josh Klein (Newport Harbor), Keith Martin (Marina), Ryan McCormick (Sunny Hills), Ali Mossadeghi (Edison), Armando Orizaba (Katella), Gus Plasencia (Santa Ana), Lenny Romero (Servite), Chris Snitko (Canyon), Juan Strutton (Laguna Hills), Sergio Suarez (Estancia), John Szczuka (Woodbridge), Mike Tsarnes (Anaheim), David Whitby (Whittier Christian), Justin Zayas (Orange).

Important dates: Dec. 8, Irvine Tournament championship; Dec. 15, Brea-Olinda Tournament championship; Dec. 22, Orange Tournament championship; Dec. 29, Fountain Valley Tournament championship; Feb. 12, Southern Section playoffs begin.

Notes: Orange County has become the strength of Southern Section soccer. Last season, seven county teams reached at least the semifinals of their divisions in the section playoffs. Two teams, El Toro (3-A) and Laguna Hills (2-A), won titles.


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