Burroughs High boys’ soccer coach Mike Kodama is dealing with a situation many other coaches would envy.
As the Indians head into a new season, its most productive player returning from a year ago is only a sophomore, and is coming off a freshman campaign where he set program records.
At Burbank, Loi Phan returns to coach the team full time after taking more of a supervisory role the last two seasons when the everyday workings of the squad were handled by an assistant.
For Providence, although the team lost some key players to graduation, coach Ronald Neef has a solid core returning, as the Pioneers make the jump from the Liberty League — where they won the league title in 2017-18 — to the more competitive Prep League.
Here is a closer look at the teams.
The Indians are coming off a season in which they finished 15-9-1 and 9-4-1 in the Pacific League, placing second behind Crescenta Valley. Burroughs lost in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs to Aliso Niguel, 4-0.
Topping the list of Indians returners is sophomore forward Manny Gonzalez. As a freshman, Gonzalez led his team with 16 goals (11 in league) and had nine assists, both new Burroughs record marks for a freshman. He is the first Indians freshman in 35 years to earn all-league accolades, getting a first-team nod.
“It’s very nice when you have a young player like that returning,” Burroughs coach Mike Kodama said. “But we really have another young team as we were mostly sophomores last year and mostly juniors this year. This year, I think we bring back 14 payers.
“I think that’s pretty good for us because we know we are going to have most of our team back next year. The guys have been working hard and it’s nice to have so many players back because we can build on what we did last year.”
Joining Gonzalez will be a trio of all-league returning players, senior forward Esteban Alcantar, junior midfielder Carlos Rosales and junior forward David Gerlach. Last season, Alcantar scored 10 goals, eight of which came in league, and dished out eight assists, Rosales finished with one goal and eight assists and Gerlach had five goals and three assists.
“With the guys we have returning, it’s just a matter of putting a few pieces together here and there and see what works best for us,” Kodama said. “The guys are a year older and they are more mature and more skilled.
“We’re going to have to rely on our ability to move. I think we’re a pretty smart team, so being able to make plays and think about the game is going to be important.”
Other key players returning for the Indians are senior defender Luis Cortez, junior defender Carter Wells and junior midfielder Manny Pascual.
As far as the goalkeeper position is concerned, Kodama said he has four players vying for the starting spot and might take a goalie-by-committee approach.
“We expect it to be tough going in league again this year,” said Kodama, whose team won the title in 2016-17. “You have show up to play every day in this league, because if you take a day off you lose points.
“From top to bottom we expect the league to be very difficult.”
After going winless the previous season, Burbank bounced back in the 2017-18 campaign, finishing 5-9-4 and 4-8-2 in the Pacific League for sixth place. The Bulldogs did not qualify for the playoffs.
Since being back at the helm, Phan said he has seen a marked improvement in his team as far as attitude and commitment is concerned. He is hoping that approach will translate into success this season.
“It’s just been a matter or getting things organized and letting the players know what’s expected of them since I got back,” Phan said. “It’s more than just going out there and playing. You have to do things the right way and take the right approach.
“When I got back out there I felt good vibes and the kids have responded to me. Some of these guys were ninth-graders and remember me or they had brothers who played for me and remember me. Now the kids are working hard and they want to be successful.”
Burbank will take to the field with one returning all-league player in senior forward Andy Cardenas. Other key returners are senior goalkeeper Christian Ramos and senior defender Jae Lee.
“The guys are out there having fun and I’m enjoying being back as well,” Phan said. “We are a little behind right now, but I think we’re figure it out.
“There are still some spots where we are seeing where guys will fit in. Every position now is still open. We have some freshmen and sophomore who are good players … We will only have two seniors.”
Phan said he also expects tough competition in the Pacific League.
‘I don’t think it’s ever going to change in our league,” he said. “It’s always going to be tough because you have some coaches who have been around for years and they run good programs.
“The league is so tough, usually it comes down to the last few games to determine the league champ.”
The Pioneers are coming of an historic season after finishing 11-5-1 and 5-1 in league to capture the league championship.
In addition, Providence notched a 5-0 win in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division VII playoffs for the program’s first postseason victory. The team fell, 4-2, in the second round to Lawndale Environmental Charter, which advanced to the division title contest.
“Maybe from what we did last season, we have had an incredible turnout for our program,” Neef said. “I think we are going to try and put together a [junior varsity] team because we had so much interest.
“One thing is that we really have a strong group of incoming freshmen, which is always good.”
The Pioneers lost some key players to graduation, including Liberty League Player of the Year Weston Tengan and all-league first-teamer Paul Swaine (led the team with 18 goals and 11 assists), among others.
The lone returning all-league player for Providence is sophomore forward Bryan Ortiz, who finished second on the team with 17 goals to go along with seven assists.
The team should be bolstered by a transfer from Bellarmine-Jefferson High after it closed down, senior striker Andrew Kim.
Other key returning players are senior midfielder Joshus Bamba, senior midfielder/forward Arthur Martinyan, junior midfielder Greg Simitian, senior forward/midfielder Isaac DiSalvo, sophomore fullback Ty Lohnas and sophomore goalkeeper Chris Pita-Del Valle.
“I have an embarrassment of riches at midfield,” Neef said. “I have six, maybe seven guys who are solid in the midfield. We also have some great talent up top.”
A newcomer who could make an impact is freshman midfielder Shant Avedikian, Patrick’s brother.
“We know this new league is going to be a challenge,” Neef said. “From an expectation standpoint I really don’t have any. I just know my guys will play hard and continue to give their all like they do every year.
“But we really don’t know what to expect in league. We could do well or we could be the doormat. So I’m going in with eyes wide open.”