CdM regroups after losing three stars

One day, the Corona del Mar High boys' soccer team welcomes back three standout players and the Sea Kings win easily.

A couple days later, the Sea Kings said goodbye for the season to two of them and so long for at least a week to the other.

Winning will not be as easy for the team ranked No. 3 in the state by ESPN RISE without Jack McBean, Matt Francini and Grady Howe.

The three players are gone for three different reasons. The losses will affect whether the Sea Kings can repeat last season's historic run to CIF Southern Section and CIF Southern California Regional titles.

George Larsen, in his second season at CdM, understood two of the losses. McBean left for Florida after the sophomore striker accepted an invitation to earn a roster spot on the U.S. under-17 national team at this summer's World Cup. He had eight goals and 11 assists for CdM as a freshman, on his way to earning second-team All-CIF Division IV honors.

Howe, a junior midfielder, injured his ankle and is expected to be out for at least a week.

The loss of Francini, a defender, Larsen said was harder to take.

The junior's season ended after one match, a 4-0 victory in the Battle for the Bay at Newport Harbor on Wednesday. Larsen said Francini's academy team, the Irvine Strikers, is not allowing Francini to play on the high school level.

"It's kind of silly," Larsen said of the Strikers' rule, noting the club team only trains during the high school season. "But it's their club. It's their players. What they do is fine. My job is to get the best out of the kids I've got.

"Matt is disappointed. He wanted to play."

Francini can now only watch unbeaten CdM (5-0-3) play.

Larsen said Francini and McBean traveled this past weekend to Santa Barbara, where the Sea Kings competed in a showcase put on during the NCAA College Cup. Both Francini and McBean were not in uniform, and Howe joined them out of action on Saturday after spraining his ankle the previous day.

The unavailability of McBean, Francini and Howe affected CdM's offense. The Sea Kings managed just two goals in two matches, finishing with a 2-2 tie with Gilroy and a scoreless tie with Loyola of Los Angeles.

Defense might be the way CdM can continue its dominance under Larsen. The Sea Kings have only lost once in their last 37 matches.

In the first four matches of this season, CdM went 3-0-1 without McBean, Francini and Howe, who missed the first four matches of the season due to their respective academy team commitments.

The CdM defense turned in a strong outing against Loyola, which is ranked No. 14 in the state. The Cubs did not record a shot on goal in the second half, allowing goalkeeper Connor Gaal to blank the opposition for the fourth time this season.

"We're strong defensively," said Larsen, who along with Gaal, has defenders Jack Gorab and Greg Allen playing well. "Instead of having a [robust] lineup, and letting it do its thing, we have to be more strategic and create opportunities on the field.

"I think with the three kids … we were a clear-cut favorite [to win section and regional titles], along with a couple of other schools. Now, we still have a talented team, but we obviously lost some of our firepower. We look to improve and we will not put our head down. We will be focused and move forward."

CdM doesn't have much time to dwell on the recent departures.

Next up for CdM are two tough matches. The Sea Kings travel to Mater Dei on Wednesday for a nonleague match at 3:15 p.m. Two days later, CdM plays host to Santa Ana Valley, ranked No. 18 in the state, at 3:15 p.m.

CdM and Costa Mesa are the area's two boys' soccer teams ranked in the recent CIF Southern Section coaches' polls. The Sea Kings are No. 1 in Division III, while the Mustangs are No. 9 in Division IV.

The Sage Hill School boys' basketball team cracked the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA preseason coaches' poll at No. 13.

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