COSTA MESA — Studies show that soccer is gaining traction and popularity in America, which is perhaps one of the last bastions of apathy toward what most of the rest of the world considers the beautiful game.
And while Southern California is generally considered a hotbed for soccer practitioners and sympathizers, Harbor Day School is anything but the epicenter for those who have much polish on the pitch.
Still, there was just enough soccer expertise to propel the Seahawks fifth- and sixth-grade boys' silver division team to a 3-1 Daily Pilot Cup victory in a first-round clash with College Park on Wednesday at Costa Mesa High.
George Busick, one of three club soccer players on the Harbor Day roster, scored two goals to lead the Seahawks, comprised of only fifth graders.
Predictably, the other Harbor Day goal came courtesy of Matt Duma, yet another veteran of club soccer.
Harbor Day Coach Todd Anderson utilized Duma, who competes for the Costa Mesa-based Pateadores club program, up front against a College Park team that clearly displayed greater feel for the game.
But as part of his defense-first philosophy, Anderson positioned Busick at defending midfielder early, before eventually allowing him to push forward as an attacker.
"I wanted to assess how strong [the Cougars] were going to be," Anderson said of his early emphasis on defense. "Our four defenders have never played soccer, so I decided to put George in front of them."
The strategy proved effective as Busick, who competes for the Newport Beach-based Slammers club program, was helpful in limiting scoring chances for College Park, despite the Cougars' early control of possession.
"They were in our half [of the field] about the first 15 minutes of the game," Anderson said of the Cougars, for whom forwards Enrique Romero and Diego Garcia were consistent catalysts. "But we finally figured out how to break them down and when I decided we could take a little bit more risk, I put George up front and he scored."
Busick opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, taking control of a loose ball about 10 yards in front. He patiently maneuvered into a bit of space and delivered the ball from near the left post to about three yards inside the right post to easily beat the goalkeeper.
College Park, however, answered before the end of the 25-minute half when Garcia boomed a ball from near the right corner that caromed off a defender in front of the net and tucked inside the near post.
Both teams played evenly for most of the second half, until Busick sprinted onto a ball just inside the 18-yard box, got the goalkeeper to commit to the center of the cage, then pulled the ball safely inside the left goal post for the go-ahead score.
Duma finalized the scoring off a throw-in, as fatigue appeared to cut into College Park's effectiveness.
Luke Hatfield, whose primary sport is baseball, Anderson said, stood out defensively for Harbor Day, for which goalie Kyle Mix had three saves.
Additional contributors for the winners were Ryan Steinke, Reed Stemler, Chandler Airth, Sam Cohen, Chris Burri, Cailen Shah and Daniel Towers.
Anderson said three of the stronger players on the team — goalie Will Anderson, Jack McKenna and John Humphries — did not play Wednesday, competing instead in their youth baseball playoffs.
"We have only 22 kids in the fifth-grade class and 16 of them are on the roster," Anderson said. "[Stemler] is a water polo kid who just decided to come out today to help fill out our roster. Most of these kids haven't played soccer since last year's Pilot Cup."
College Park Coach Miguel Islas was pleased with his team's play, and he admitted the lack of available substitutes eventually resulted in his players getting tired.
Islas singled out the play of midfielder DaShawn Clark, while defender Oscar Hernandez consistently broke up Harbor Day scoring chances.
"[Clark] played the best game I've ever seen him play," Islas said. "He ran all the time, defended and won many balls. I'm so proud of him."
College Park goalkeepers Arnujo Bravo (first half) and Isaac Tupailesa (second half) had one save apiece.
Other contributors for College Park were Jesus Mata, Alex Vargas, Allan Ayala, Antonio Mondragon and Alan Medina.