Boys' Soccer Dream Team: Francini makes year count

Matt Francini missed high school boys' soccer at Corona del Mar.

One match is all he played in his junior season. A commitment with an academy team in Irvine barred him from playing for the Sea Kings.

So, what did Francini do? He left the academy team.

He missed CdM soccer that much.

He decided to return to the Sea Kings for his senior year for three reasons, to represent his school, to have fun, and to lead his team.

Five other seniors decided not to join him. The five opted to go the route Francini went the previous season and play for their academy teams, rather than their high school team at CdM.

"Initially, I was bummed because those are the same kids I've been playing with for a long time," said Francini, who also understood why his former teammates stayed with their academy teams. "Academy was a great experience."

The experience was nothing compared to what Francini went through in his final high school season with the Sea Kings.

He was able to do all three things he set out to accomplish and much more, earning the Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Dream Team Player of the Year award in boys' soccer.

Francini was glad he came back. His coach, George Larsen, was thankful as well.

Larsen needed a player as talented and smart as Francini to guide a young team, which lost a lot of experience. Francini was there for the Sea Kings, and it wasn't always easy. They started the season with just one win in the first eight matches.

When the season ended, Francini led CdM to its first outright Pacific Coast League title in Larsen's three seasons at CdM. The Sea Kings went 9-2-1 in their last dozen matches.

Larsen paid his midfielder a big compliment, comparing him to Brian Ford, a former star player, who earned All-CIF Southern Section honors in his last two seasons, before graduating in 2011. Not even Ford, a vital part of CdM's historic season in which the Sea Kings won CIF Southern Section Division IV and CIF Southern California Regional Division II titles in 2009-10, won an outright league crown with the Sea Kings.

Without Francini, Larsen said a league title wouldn't have been possible for CdM (10-7-3, 8-1-1 in league), which also reached the second round of the Division 3 playoffs. Larsen said Francini, who earned first-team all-league honors, controlled the midfield like Ford, who went on to earn a scholarship to play soccer at UC Davis.

Francini's college future is just as bright. He's going to Stanford because of academics.

Francini, who said he has a 4.5 GPA, was accepted early. The way he found out is a story he will never forget, either.

The news came before a nonleague match at Estancia High on Dec. 9.

"My dad came running on the field in tears, saying I got accepted into Stanford," said Francini, who was surprised, not only because his father, Alex, went to UC Berkeley, which is Stanford's rival, but because his dad was running and crying on the field.

"I had a big smile on my face the entire game."

The following are the rest of the players on the Dream Team:

Sean Bjelland, Estancia

Senior center back anchored the Eagles' defense, helping turn things around under Coach Robert Castellano. The Eagles won 11 more matches than they did the previous season and placed second in the competitive Orange Coast League. Bjelland earned the Orange Coast League Defensive MVP.

*

Conor Roche, Corona del Mar

Junior striker was the area's best scorer, recording 17 goals and five assists. Roche finished in the top 10 in scoring in Orange County, despite missing two weeks because of a knee problem. He led CdM to a Pacific Coast League title. Roche earned the Pacific Coast League Offensive MVP award.

*

Cristian Gomez, Estancia

Junior striker provided Estancia's scoring punch by creating most of his 10 goals. Gomez, who had four assists, led Estancia to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Gomez earned a share of the Orange Coast League MVP.

*

Max Premer, Corona del Mar

Sophomore stopper provided stability in the back for CdM. The Sea Kings started slow before going 9-2-1 in their last dozen matches. They advanced to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs. Premer earned first-team All-Pacific Coast League laurels.

*

Christian Ochoa, Newport Harbor

Senior striker led the Sailors with 10 goals, including four game-winners, and finished with four assists. Ochoa played aggressive, using his body well to separate himself from defenders in the box and create scoring chances. Ochoa earned first-team All-Sunset League laurels.

*

Jorge Sanchez, Costa Mesa

Senior striker was one of the fastest players in the area and was deadly in the box. Sanchez almost produced a goal in more than half of the Mustangs' 24 matches. He earned first-team All-Orange Coast League laurels. Sanchez is a repeat Dream Team selection.

*

Jay Damon, Corona del Mar

Sophomore sweeper helped the Sea Kings win their second Pacific Coast League title in Coach George Larsen's three seasons. He was part of a defense, which allowed only nine goals in league play. Damon earned first-team All-Pacific Coast League laurels.

*

Wesley Peña, Estancia

Senior defender was the Eagles' most versatile athlete. Peña also contributed as a midfielder and striker, scoring six goals, and goalkeeper. He scored in Estancia's 2-1 overtime win at La Serna in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 first round. Peña earned first-team All-Orange Coast League laurels.

*

Cristian Montillo, Estancia

Junior defender has provided leadership for the Eagles for two seasons. Montillo plans to return as a captain next season and help the Eagles contend for an Orange Coast League title after they placed second. Montillo earned second-team All-Orange Coast League laurels.

*

Jesse Paz, Estancia

Senior midfielder improved in his first full season on a loaded roster. Paz scored the golden goal in overtime, lifting Estancia to a 2-1 victory at La Serna in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 first round. Paz earned second-team All-Orange Coast League laurels.

*

Armon Alaghband, Corona del Mar

Senior goalkeeper stepped in for the departed Connor Gaal and performed well. Alaghband only allowed nine goals in Pacific Coast League play, helping the Sea Kings post two shutouts and win the league crown. Alaghband earned second-team All-Pacific Coast League laurels.

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