NEWPORT BEACH — The Corona del Mar High boys' soccer team is now at full strength. Like the second-ranked team in the state by ESPN RISE was not already loaded.
The Sea Kings welcomed back Jack McBean, Grady Howe and Matt Francini on Wednesday night. The trio missed the first four matches of the season because of club commitments.
What better way for the three to make their debut than in the Battle of the Bay against Newport Harbor?
They made a difference right away. McBean, Francini and Howe each recorded goals in the first half as CdM shut out its rival, 4-0, and remained unbeaten this season.
With the amount of talent at CdM, the Sea Kings (4-0-1) might not drop a match any time soon.
"It was good energy," Coach George Larsen said of having all his players together for the first time. "One being the Battle of the Bay, they always look forward to that. You could see they had smiles on their faces and were happy to be out there together."
McBean, Howe and Francini were glad to be back in California with their high school team.
The three spent the past few days at the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Winter Showcase in Phoenix, Ariz. Larsen said McBean and Howe played with the Los Angeles Galaxy under-16 academy team, while Francini was with his Irvine Strikers under-18 club team.
Without a break, McBean, Howe and Francini united with their teammates against Newport Harbor. They helped CdM deliver the knockout blow early.
McBean struck first with a goal in the eighth minute. Thirteen minutes later, Francini got on the board. He blasted a shot from 35 yards out, beating the goalkeeper to the far post to give the Sea Kings a 2-0 lead.
Howe, a UCLA commit, put away the fourth goal after making his way deep into the box.
Six minutes remained in the first half and the Battle of the Bay was over.
Goalkeeper Connor Gaal was not about to let the Sailors beat him as he registered CdM's second shutout.
Newport Harbor's new coach, Juan Mares, did not expect his players to challenge CdM.
"Even talking to them yesterday at practice, [I said], 'I don't think you guys are ready,' and it showed," Mares said. "I'm hoping they learned the hard way. They've got to come out with a better mental approach.
"One way of learning the hard way is taking lumps like this against a quality team."
The Sailors are heading in the opposite direction of the Sea Kings. They are searching for their first victory.
The next shot at a win is Friday, when Newport Harbor (0-2-1) opens play in the Irvine Tournament. Inexperience has played a big role to the Sailors' slow start.
Mares said 16 players are new to varsity and they are slowly learning what it takes to be a competitive team.
The Sea Kings are more than a competitive side. They can dominate, evident from winning CIF Southern Section Division IV and CIF Southern Section Southern California Regional Division II titles last season.
Since Larsen took over last season, CdM has only dropped one match. That is a stretch of 34 matches.
Larsen expects a challenge this weekend, when the Sea Kings travel to Santa Barbara to participate in the Soccer Town High School Showcase.
Mason Case, who headed in a goal off a cross by Jack Gorab, is looking forward to playing against some of the elite programs in the state. Case believes the Sea Kings can compete with anyone.
Having McBean, Howe and Francini only improves their chances.
"It's nice to be able to play with McBean up top. He's just incredible," Case said. "Then we have Grady, who just controls the midfield for us. Then we have Francini, who had a really nice shot.
"It's more fun now having more people to play with."