After a second-place finish last season in the Pacific League, the Burroughs High boys' soccer team lost a large group of players to graduation.
The biggest loss was midfielder Francisco Baez, and All-CIF Southern Section Division III first-team selection who tallied 18 goals and nine assists. In league play, he scored all 18 to set a new school season mark for scores in the Pacific League. In addition, the Indians graduated Kevin Garcia, a senior defender who was a second-team All-CIF selection and senior defender Ozzie Castro, a third-team All-CIF choice.
However, the Indians received an influx of solid players and coach Mike Kodama expects the team to be right in the league hunt.
"We had a bad start last year," said Kodama, whose young team had its worst start to a season since 1985, going 1-5-1. "We need to get out to a better start this season."
The other two area teams, Burbank and Providence — Bellarmine-Jefferson is not fielding a boys' squad — both have their share of talented returning players after losing key athletes to graduation.
Here is a closer look at how the season is shaping up.
The Indians (10-9-4 last season) played their best during the second half of the Pacific League, but they just couldn't defeat talented Crescenta Valley in two matches. The Falcons went on to win the league title and a Division III championship.
Burroughs won its first-round playoff contest against Mayfair, 2-1, on the road, but the Indians lost in the second round to Santa Monica, 2-0.
"We lost some quality seniors from last season, but we also had a lot of young guys who are back this year," said Kodama, who returned to the program last season after previously heading the Indians for 22 years before stepping down in 2009. "Since we return some good players, it's a matter of filling in the pieces that we lost with the seniors. We also had some guys come back during the offseason."
Two players who have returned after playing in an academy soccer program are senior midfielder/defender Brian Azarte and senior midfielder Manny Celio.
"Having both of those guys back is going to help us a lot," Kodama said. "The only thing is that Manny's injured right now and we might not see him until January."
Also returning is senior goalkeeper Elliott Whitecotton. Last season, Whitecotton began the year as the team's backup but earned the starting spot after playing well in league.
Returning to anchor the defense is senior Jorman Herrera. Other players who Kodama expects big things from are junior forward Brandon Gerlach, junior midfielder Michael Conrad, sophomore midfielder Andres Aguilar, junior defender/midfielder Milosh Petko and sophomore defender/midfielder VJ Salazar.
"A lot of the positions we're going to shift people around in the preseason to see what we've got," Kodama said.
Kodama added that he expects Crescenta Valley to be tough in the Pacific League.
Before Bulldogs Coach Loi Phan took over the program last season, the Bulldogs experienced discipline problems that led to CIF sanctions for the 2011-12 campaign, which culminated in a last-place finish in league. The squad also hadn't reached the postseason in two years.
However, things changed under Phan. The Bulldogs (7-8-2) rolled through the season with no major infractions and the squad even qualified for the playoffs after placing fourth in the Pacific League.
"With this being my second year, the kids know what to expect now," said Phan, who had previously headed the Burbank girls' soccer program. "We lost some guys from last year, now it's just a matter of finding new guys to replace them. But we have most of our defense back and a couple of other key players returning as well."
Among the key returners is a trio of defenders that Phan hopes will be able to keep opponents off the scoreboard. The group consists of seniors Josue Gonzalez and Giovanni Gomez and junior Raymond Shideler.
"We are going to relay on those guys a lot this season for us," Phan said.
Phan said he is still deciding on who will be the starting goalkeeper between senior Arais Teimoorian, a junior varsity call-up, and freshman Andrew Hank.
Leading the offense is expected to be a pair of returning seniors, Dennis Palacio and Christian Garcia.
"I also have a bunch of new guys and some guys up from the JV that will be battling for the starting spots," Phan said. "It's probably going to take a little time to see where we can put them. We were supposed to have a scrimmage, but now we just have our opener against Monrovia (on Tuesday)."
Phan said he expects the Pacific League to provide tough competition this season.
"Our goal is to make it back to playoffs," he said. "I don't think we're probably strong enough to complete for a league title, but you never know with our league. Everybody beats up on everybody and it might come down to the last few games.
"CV is always going to be solid, but I think the up-and-coming team is going to be Muir, who was very young last season."
The big change this season for the Pioneers is that they experience a change in league. The team is out of the Liberty League, with opponents like Buckley, Holy Martyrs and Yeshiva. Providence is now in the Heritage League, and will go against Trinity Classical Academy, Hillcrest Christian and Pacifica Christian. Former Liberty League foes Glendale Adventist Academy and Oakwood also made the jump.
"I really don't know much about this new league," said Providence Coach Kordo Doski, whose team had just three wins a year ago and didn't qualify for the playoffs. "Some of the new teams I don't know that much about."
Despite struggling last season, Doski said he is encouraged with the talent and commitment he has received from this season's crop of players.
"Since my first year here four years ago, I would say that this is probably one of the best groups that I've had, not only soccer-wise but we have some very good kids," he said. "We have a nice group of freshmen who might not get a lot of experience this year, but it's nice to have them coming out and that will help us build the program.
"What's nice is that we're getting soccer players out. In the past, we would get certain athletes who we would have to convert to soccer players. But we now have guys who have played soccer and they are excited about playing."
Key returners for the Pioneers are expected to be senior sweeper Anto Boghokian, senior midfielder Sarkis Shaginian, an academy player, and senior forward Keerati Asawalapsakun. Two sophomores who Doski is expecting big things from are stopper Richard Vesegas and forward Steven Villeda.
A freshman who could make an instant impact is Shea Sahm.
"We are excited to see what this group is going to be able to do," Doski said. "We have some talent and we think that we're going to compete. I would be disappointed if we don't make the playoffs."