Sergio Gutierrez’s numbers don’t jump out at you.
But there’s vital subtext here. And that is that those numbers don’t matter.
Gutierrez isn’t the flashing dynamic player slicing through opposing defenses, nor the guy up front who sticks everything into the net, nor the big guy at the back silencing the other team’s big man. He’s more important than that.
The senior midfielder does all the little things that go unnoticed but make the difference, and he was at the heart of Estancia High’s run this season to the Orange Coast League championship and a No. 3 seed for the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs.
Gutierrez scores goals and dishes off assists, to be sure, but what he really does is make it possible to win, and that’s at the core of his selection as the Daily Pilot Boys’ Soccer Dream Team Player of the Year.
“Sergio’s a great leader, has a very high soccer IQ, and he’s very, very, very mature for his age,” Estancia coach Robert Castellano said. “He studies the game a lot. He’s always asking questions, always trying to get better. He does a lot of good things for us.”
Among them, Gutierrez is an expert at running the game and setting its pace, at linking teammates, keying the transition from defense into attack, breaking pressure with diagonal balls that open space, switching play from one side of the field to the other to create advantages. He wins tackles and 50-50 balls, breaks up opposing forays, and creates opportunities, often before anyone else recognizes them, that lead to goals.
Gutierrez takes care of the details that make the difference, helping the Eagles (14-4-6, 6-0-4 in league) to their first league title since the 2009-10 season.
“He’s great at calming play down. He pauses the game,” Castellano said of Gutierrez, who earned All-CIF Southern Section Division 3 honors. “Everybody likes to go 1,000 mph, and Sergio can pause it and just look around and make better decisions. His link-up play from defense to offense is really good, and if teams start pressuring us, he can break the pressure. He can break the line with one diagonal pass. He’s very good at switching the field.”
Gutierrez, the Orange Coast League MVP, scored nine goals this season with eight assists, decent numbers for an attacking midfielder, but he so often delivers the ball that sets up the ball that leads to the goal.
“Sergio’s very unselfish,” Castellano said. “He’s always looking to pass, always looking to create that goal for his teammates. He wants them to have the glory, I guess you can say. He’s a real special player. It’s going to be weird not to have him next year.”
Gutierrez spent all four seasons on varsity, scored a goal with the first touch of his prep career, and stepped into a leadership role almost immediately. He’s quickly emerged as a force in central midfield and as one of Estancia’s most important players. This year he formed with his cousin, Charlie Segura, next to him, and Gerrardo Leon sitting in behind one of Orange County’s best midfield triangles.
It’s a chance for Gutierrez to play in an attacking role. He’s a defensive midfielder for his team at Laguna Hills-based West Coast Futbol Club, which he helped to a second-place finish in last summer’s U.S. Youth Soccer National Championships.
“It definitely is more fun,” Gutierrez said. “I get to dribble at guys, do fancy movements. I’m closer to the last third of the field, and I can express myself more in the game, of having fun and really not worrying, because it’s a lot less risky if you lose the ball higher up the field than down near your goal.”
Gutierrez said he aims to play at the highest level possible, but he knows it’s no certainty. His father, also named Sergio, played at Guadalajara-based Club Atlas’ academy and was looking to turn pro before injury ended his career.
“I know a lot of kids have that dream [of playing professionally], too, but I have backup plans, and if soccer gives in, I’m going to take it,” Gutierrez said. “I want to play soccer. It’s what I want to do. It’s what I love to do. And I’m going to work hard, do all I can to get there. I’m going to keep going and going.”
Gutierrez has been playing soccer since he was old enough to kick a ball, and he was on a team by the time he was 4. His dad introduced him to the game, taught him its intricacies, built his skill, and pointed out positional tactics as they watched games on TV.
Things got serious when Gutierrez turned 10 and joined West Coast FC. He already had the foot skills, could do what he wanted with the ball at his feet, and his father instructed him to watch how the great players move off the ball, how they open space and create opportunities without the ball, then drift into the perfect spot to finish plays.
“When I found out about [Argentine forward Leo] Messi and [Portuguese winger Cristiano] Ronaldo, I was going to YouTube to look at videos,” Gutierrez said. “I would see how they would create space that wasn’t there yet. And I would try to do it, and it was really hard at the beginning, but as time went on, I started to get the hang of it a little bit.”
Gutierrez developed a sense on how to modulate play, how much weight to give a ball, what kind of spin would be required to bend a ball onto a teammate’s foot. He sought to master all the little things that usually go unnoticed.
“All those little factors matter,” he said. “You have to know your teammates really well, and you have to trust your instincts and yourself for those little things to happen. See things before they’re there.”
That’s helped form him into a fully rounded player, one who can think the game as well as he can play it, a critical tool in his position at the game’s highest levels. It’s paid off in club ball — West Coast FC is headed back to the national championships.
He was recruited by Cal State Fullerton, UC Riverside and Sacramento State, but he didn’t qualify academically and will head to junior college before looking to make the jump into the NCAA game.
That’s his only regret.
“Knowing that I have to have good grades to do what I love to do, I’m going to do it now,” Gutierrez said. “Like freshman and sophomore year, I didn’t really have an idea of college soccer, and I didn’t really have anyone who could guide me in that sense. So I was, like, kind of whatever about school. And junior year we started talking about it at club, and it really hit me. Like, ‘Hey, you’re messing up. You might have to go the long way and not go straight to a four-year [college].’
“I was pretty messed up about it, pretty sad about it, but then I start to pick myself up to keep going, because it’s still possible. It just might take a little longer.”
Castellano believes he’ll get there. He has the ability, the character and the work ethic necessary.
“That ability to endure the tough times and the pressure? Sergio has that,” Castellano said. “He never looks rattled, never looks nervous. He’s always ready to take on the fight, the obstacles. Whatever’s thrown at him, he’s ready to overcome it.
“The goal is not accomplished yet. He’s pretty determined. I think he’ll get there.”
COACH OF THE YEAR
Castellano guided the Eagles to their first Orange Coast League title since the 2009-10 season, his first at the helm of his alma mater. Estancia won the league crown by going unbeaten at 6-0-4, preventing Godinez from winning its sixth straight league championship. Under Castellano, the Eagles earned the No. 3 seed in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs. Estancia lost 2-1 in overtime at La Quinta in the second round, finishing the season 14-4-6.
FW | Edison | Sr.
Ingalls led the Chargers to back-to-back Sunset League championships and the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. The senior forward finished with nine goals and 11 assists, earning the Sunset League MVP award.
FW | Estancia | Sr.
Martinez lifted the Eagles to their first Orange Coast League crown since 2009-10 and the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs. The Orange Coast League Offensive MVP recorded 17 goals and 11 assists.
FW | Fountain Valley | Sr.
Mack totaled 12 goals and shared the Sunset League Offensive Player of the Year award. The senior forward helped the Barons finish third in the league and reach the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.
FW | Edison | Sr.
Morrell finished with 11 goals and five assists, making the All-Sunset League first team. The senior forward contributed to the Chargers averaging 2.3 goals per match. Morrell also made the Dream Team in football.
FW | Newport Harbor | Sr.
Enriquez led the Sailors to a runner-up finish in the Sunset League and their second straight CIF Southern Section playoff appearance. The senior forward produced eight goals and three assists, garnering first-team All-Sunset League honors.
MF | Edison | Sr.
Voorhees recorded 12 goals and seven assists, and he shared the Sunset League Offensive Player of the Year award. The senior midfielder helped Edison go 17-3-0 in the Sunset League the past two seasons.
MF | Estancia | Sr.
Segura created scoring chances, finishing with seven goals and eight assists. The senior midfielder, a first-team All-Orange Coast League pick, helped the Eagles reach the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs.
DEF | Corona del Mar | Jr.
Katz anchored the Sea Kings’ second-place finish in the Pacific Coast League, as they won seven of their last eight matches. The center back is a repeat first-team All-Pacific Coast League and Dream Team selection.
DEF | Laguna Beach | Sr.
Butler received first-team All-Orange Coast League laurels for the Breakers. The senior defender kept Laguna Beach competitive, as it placed fourth in the always-tough league, barely missing the CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoffs.
DEF | Estancia | Sr.
Millan scored the game winner to secure the Eagles’ first Orange Coast League title in eight seasons. The senior defender, who had six goals and seven assists, is a repeat first-team Dream Team selection.
GK | Edison | Sr.
Wilson was the Sunset League Defensive Player of the Year. The senior goalkeeper posted seven shutouts, allowing only five goals in 10 league matches. Wilson, bound for Loyola Marymount University, is a repeat first-team Dream Team pick.
Position, Name, School, Year
FW Christian Djurasevic, Ocean View, Sr.
FW Carson Cushing, Laguna Beach, Sr.
FW Freddy Ponce, Los Amigos, Sr.
MF Chase Munger, Sage Hill, Sr.
MF Callan Mann, Fountain Valley, Jr.
MF Aidan Murphy, Pacifica Christian Orange County, Jr.
DEF Rhyan Phan, Corona del Mar, Sr.
DEF Tristan Trepas, Costa Mesa, Jr.
DEF Alvin Mancilla, Newport Harbor, Sr.
DEF Lex Wilson, Huntington Beach, Jr.