Talk of titles is in air for local boys' soccer squads

LA CRESCENTA — Perhaps one of the odder aspects of the 2012-2013 boys’ soccer season, at least locally, was the absence of a championship team or contender.

Powerhouse Crescenta Valley High and St. Francis made earlier-than-expected postseason exits, while Flintridge Prep, Glendale and Hoover highs continued to focus on progress.

As the season begins, all five teams talked about taking steps to rectifying the lack of a crown.

“I’m excited because we have five solid starters back from last season,” Crescenta Valley Coach Grant Clark said. “Last year, I thought we just had problems finishing. We had some ties that hurt us and I think we’re ready to move beyond that.”

Crescenta Valley hit the mountain top in 2011-12, when the team captured both a Pacific League and CIF Southern Section Division IV championship.

Last year, the Falcons finished second in league to Burroughs with an 8-2-4 record, with four untimely ties versus Pasadena and Muir highs, while posting a 19-4-7 overall record and falling in the second round of the Division III playoffs.

Some of Clark’s excitement this season is due to the return of senior midfielder Tony Royer, a key member from the Falcons’ title squad of two years ago.

Royer missed last season as he participated in a soccer academy.

“I’m not sure what the circumstances are regarding Tony’s return, but I’m glad to have him back,” Clark said. “He’s certainly a leader on the field and a talented player.”

Joining the UC Irvine-bound Royer are senior forward Matt Ryan, who is returning from a meniscus injury last season, junior midfielder Justin Wright and senior forward Chris Sinani, who Clark described as “an under-the-radar player.”

“We have some talent up front and in the middle and should be formidable,” Clark said. “We have the opportunity to compete for a league title and to make a deep push in the playoffs.”

Newcomers who may make an impact are Bangladeshian transfer Sameen Islam, a junior forward, and sophomore midfielder Joshua Moran, formrely of Los Angeles Cathedral.

Senior defender Daniel Eng is also a solid returner on defense.

Like Crescenta Valley, St. Francis is hoping to return to its former, more dominant self.

A young Golden Knights squad took its lumps under veteran coach Glen Appels, only to rebound toward the end of the season in finishing 8-11-5 overall and 5-6-1 in league for third place within the Mission League.

St. Francis won a wild 5-5 (4-3 on penalty kicks) match versus Canyon Springs in the wild-card round before falling in the first round of the Division I playoffs, 6-0, to Palos Verdes.

“The biggest thing last year is we had so many sophomores on varsity and they just didn’t have the experience,” Appels said. “In fact, it was seven sophomores and two freshmen with only five seniors.

“Now all those sophomores are juniors and they have experience and we’re excited about what we have going this year.”

The Golden Knights welcome back senior forward Frankie Veiga, who spent a good portion of last year injured, and an experienced back row in junior defenders Benjamin Gabella, Jason Carmody and Paolo Ramirez.

“I think with this core, we’re not going to be in many shootouts,” Appels said. “Our problem may be more in generating offense.”

Appels is expecting a breakout effort from senior midfielder Griffin O’Brien, who will be paired with freshman Jacob Anderson and junior Carlo Taglioretti.

The trio will attempt to fill the void left by senior Ryan Renn, who is making the switch from halfback to fullback this season, as Renn primarily plays defense with his club team.

One team member that Appels is looking forward to seeing is junior Kareem Zeenni, who is currently kicking for the football team as it advances deep into the postseason.

At Flintridge Prep, the goal is continued progress under second-year coach A.J. Yates, whose team finished 8-9-4 and was second within the Prep League with a 4-1-3 mark.

The Rebels advanced to the postseason and fell in the Division VI first round, 6-0, to Firebaugh.

“We set our goals this year to both wins games and to win league,” Yates said. “The league is looking pretty tough and we graduated a couple of super talented guys. But even so, we return a ton of players and we’re looking to make a run.”

Flintridge Prep lost the services of Prep League Offensive Player of the Year Manny Perez, who scored a team-high 16 goals, and top defender Kurt Kozacik.

However, the Rebels can boast 14 returners, including league first-team striker Cole Rademacher (13 goals and three assists), junior forward Ari Baranian (seven goals) and senior center midfielder Bryce Delgado (four goals).

“I think the biggest hurdle for us is just getting used to playing without Manny,” Yates said. “He was the type of player that took charge and who could take over a game. We don’t have that type of superstar, so this is going to have be a team effort.”

Yates will also lean heavily on senior midfielder Daniel Enzminger (three goals), while the team is happy to see a healthy Tim Bates and new keeper in sophomore Hamilton Evans.

Offense appears the key for Glendale High, which finished 7-11-1 last season and fourth in the Pacific League with a 6-7-1 mark.

The Nitros opened the postseason with a Division III wild card victory at Garden Grove Pacifica, before losing to eventual divisional champion El Rancho, 6-0.

“We’re going to fight for a championships this year. I know we lost a lot of players, but we still have 22 players on the squad,” Nitros Coach Artur Aghasyan. “Last year it was about making the playoffs and this year it’s about a league title.”

Aghasyan is looking to fly out of his 4-4-2 formation and put pressure on opposing teams with junior forward Avo Haroutunyan and midfielder Pablo Buenrostro.

On defense, Glendale will rely on goalie Arman Sargysan and 6-foot senior defender Benito Fausto.

“We’ll have a few problems early because we didn’t get that many practices and couldn’t get a scrimmage,” Aghasyan said, “but by league, we’ll be ready.”

Hoover High has its eyes both on the present and on the future, as the Nitros welcome a new coach in Basile Pagourtzis, who previously coached at Holy Family and who replaces Kevin Cadenas.

“Actually, I’m looking at the long-term success of the soccer program,” Pagourtzis said. “In the future, we’d love to have a club team with the high school and elementary and we’re working on a year-round program.”

As for the present, Pagourtzis carries the largest local roster with 27 players, 18 of which are seniors.

Yet, the 12th-grade designation can be deceiving, contends Pagourtzis.

“Some of these players are not going to play and others just came out for this year and don’t really know the game,” he said. “We’re also going to have about four or five freshmen on the team.”

Hoover finished 2-10-5 last season, eighth in the Pacific League and did not qualify for the postseason.

Hoping to turn around this season’s prospects are forwards Artin Almary and Andre Davoodi, sweeper Christian Cerritos and stopper Banik Housepian.

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