Berger selected Pacific's top player

When Crescenta Valley High boys' soccer Coach Grant Clark showed up for a meeting to determine the All-Pacific League team, he encountered a surprise.

None of the league's other seven coaches had submitted considerations for a league most valuable player, so Clark took the initiative and suggested his two top players, Alex Berger and Pavle Atanackovic, as potential candidates for the honor. A short time later, according to Clark, each coached voted for Berger.

Berger was bestowed with the honor for the first time after leading the Falcons to the league championship for the third season in a row. The senior midfielder finished with 10 goals and 29 assists for 49 points and helped the Falcons (23-1-6, 12-0-2) capture the CIF Southern Section Division IV championship and advance to the CIF Southern California Regional Championships Division I final.

"I figured some of the coaches had some of their own guys up for consideration," Clark said. "I told them they needed to decide who they wanted to vote for and it was Alex.

"He had a fabulous year and he made our offense go because he could see the field so well. He knew where to put the ball and the others finished. He's head and shoulders the top midfielder in our league and division."

Berger, a reigning All-Area first-team honoree, said he was a bit shocked at picking up the honor while playing for a team filled with standouts.

"It never even crossed my mind and I was a little surprised to be considered," Berger said. "I played as hard as I could when I got on to the field.

"To get MVP is a great honor. It's another thing to happen in what turned out to be a great year winning league, CIF and going to state. Things fell into place for me and the team and my teammates helped me out a lot."

Crescenta Valley, which won its final 12 matches in league, had four players named to the first team and three to the second team. Hoover and Glendale had one player each named to the second team.

Atanackovic, the reigning All-Area Player of the Year, Salar Hajimirsadeghi, Matt Schmutzer and Nick Ruiz of Crescenta Valley were selected to the first team.

Atanackovic finished with a school-record 39 goals and nine assists for an area-leading 87 points. Atanackovic, who will attend UC Irvine in the fall, scored three or more goals in four league matches.

"With Pavle, he took a lot of stress off our other players," Clark said. "The things he did all year long were a huge benefit to the team and, if you don't have somebody who can put the ball in the net, it's going to be difficult."

Hajimirsadeghi, a senior midfielder, provided leadership, grit and complimented Berger well. He finished with five goals and three assists despite missing several matches while recovering from a shoulder injury.

Schmutzer, a senior sweeper, was the backbone to Crescenta Valley's stalwart defensive unit. He contributed one goal and two assists.

Ruiz, a senior goalkeeper, recorded 14 shutouts on the season. He registered seven shutouts in league.

"Salar didn't play until league started and he was skilled, physical and a leader who was a staple in our lineup," Clark said. "With Matt, he was a great defender and has very good instincts and knows how to beat you to the ball.

"With Matt, he proved to be a phenomenal goalkeeper who could get to most of the balls and knock them away."

Matt Bracht, Erick Trejo and Michael Shahnazarians of Crescenta Valley, Glendale's Artur Nasarian and Luis Lopez of Hoover earned spots on the second team.

Bracht, a junior, proved to be a valuable member of the Falcons' defensive unit. Trejo, a junior midfielder/forward, collected 10 goals and 11 assists for 31 points. Shahnazarians, a senior, had one assist and helped play a big role on defense for the Falcons.

Nazarian, a senior midfielder, finished with seven goals and five assists for the Nitros (5-10-7, 3-7-4 in league for sixth place). Lopez, a senior defender/midfielder, notched three goals and three assists for the Tornadoes (3-9-5, 3-7-5 in league for seventh place).

Those receiving honorable mention were Crescenta Valley sophomore defender Tony Royer (one goal and one assist), Hoover sophomore goalkeeper/defender/midfielder Argin Haghoubian (seven goals and five assists) and Glendale junior forward Alberto Chamagua (eight goals and four assists).

charles.rich@latimes.com

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