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Boys’ Soccer Preview: La Cañada well-prepared for league title defense, deep playoff run

La Cañada High-Monrovia boys’ soccer
Goalkeeper Max Landa is a key returner this season for the La Cañada High boys’ soccer team.
(File Photo)

Last year’s boys’ soccer season was a turning point for La Cañada High.

Entering his fourth year as La Cañada coach, Bruno Costa will finally field a team that he’s coached for all four seasons.

For Flintridge Prep, it is looking to add on to last season’s success when it captured its third straight Prep League championship.

At St. Francis, the Golden Knights look to have an experienced squad as they try to make a return trip to the CIF Southern Section playoffs.

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Here is a closer look at the teams.

LA CAÑADA

In the three years leading the Spartans, Costa and the boys’ soccer team have lost just two Rio Hondo League games on their way to two titles.

The challenge now is to overcome the first-round of the CIF Southern Section playoffs and take a step further into the postseason, all while defending their league crown.

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“I think we established our position in the last three years as a contender,” Costa said. “Because of that, in the last three years, we’ve lost two [league] games. With that in mind, it gives the team a sense of responsibility of keeping the legacy of their alumni. The other schools know we will always come strong. That and this maturity from the players should give us a good shot at league.”

The Spartans posted a15-5-7 record, and, for the second straight season, La Cañada finished 7-1-2 in league. Their lone loss came in a 5-0 road game against South Pasadena.

Though their league record remains the same, the Spartans saw their postseason run end in the first round of the CIF Southern Section playoffs for the second consecutive year in a 1-0 road loss to Nogales in Division V.

The Spartans haven’t gotten out of the first round since Costa’s first season, when they reached the Division VI semifinals and fell in a penalty shootout to Dunn.

“Our biggest challenge is to overcome the first round of playoffs,” said Costa, whose team will remain in Division V. “We have that in mind. From experience, we know that if we can overcome this road block, we can go really, really far.

“I see it as a transition. You play one kind of tournament, and then all of a sudden you have to switch. Sometimes, if you’re not on your best day, things may go down. It becomes a different type of competition. You get out of stability into all-or-nothing. Teams, in general, have to adapt, and it’s no different with our team. That’s our biggest challenge, getting ready at the right time.”

In league competition, La Cañada will battle a strong Temple City team, a well-coached and defensive-minded Monrovia squad and a South Pasadena team that made an impressive run in the final stretch of last season. San Marino will be a question mark for the Spartans with a new coach.

Though the Spartans graduated 11 players, the maturity of the returning core will be key for their success, including reigning league most valuable player JP Crispi.

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Also returning is midfielder and first-team all-league selection Arian Shapourifar. He will be aided by Tyler Na-Nakornpanom, Andrew Ignatian and Noah Truong in a midfield that Costa said will be fast and well-conditioned.

“My biggest impression: speed,” Costa said. “This is going to be a very fast team, a very fast midfield. Everybody is very mobile with above-average technical level. I expect a very mobile team. Very articulated and smart. Promising, very promising.”

The Spartans also return goalkeeper Max Landa, who was a first-team all-league honoree last season.

La Canada will start its league title defense against San Marino at home Jan. 8.

FLINTRIDGE PREP

Flintridge Prep enjoyed another impressive season, winning its third Prep League title in a row. Flintridge Prep finished 14-7-1, 5-1 in league before reaching the second round of the Division VI playoffs, falling to host Pacific, 3-0.

Another league championship and playoff appearance could be again within reach for Flintridge Prep, which will return most of its core under the guidance of coach Esteban Chavez.

“We definitely want to win league again and we like our group,” said Chavez, who also coaches the school’s girls’ team. “It’s just about consistency as far as standards and our players have a lot more experience.

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“If we can continue to be consistent, then I like our chances at winning league. There are other good teams in our league, like Pasadena Poly. Our players are very capable of continuing to do good things.”

The Rebels will be paced by junior midfielder Silas Chavez, who finished with 14 goals and 17 assists to earn an All-CIF first-team nod last season. He will be joined by senior forward Simon Siskel, senior midfielder Nick Klatsky, senior defender Jason Kreimberg and junior defender Andrew Odom.

Flintridge Prep will be in Division VI this season.

ST. FRANCIS

A season ago, St. Francis had a young squad that featured eight sophomores and two freshmen in and out of the starting lineup. Now, St. Francis will be anything but young with six seniors. For good measure, St. Francis will have 14 returners.

It’s left veteran St. Francis coach Glen Appels eager to see how the Golden Knights grow with an eye on moving up in the competitive Mission League.

“We’re looking good and we have another year of experience under our belts,” said Appels, whose team went 10-9-4, 5-4-3 in league for fourth place in league before falling to Newbury Park, 1-0, in a Division II first-round road playoff match. “We think that experience will help us and we are heading in the right direction.

“With league, it’s always going to be hard. It looks like it normally does with all six teams competing for four [automatic] playoff spots.”

St. Francis will be bolstered by senior goalkeeper Luis Granados, who recorded five shutouts and averaged close to 11 saves per match en route to receiving All-CIF accolades last season.

St. Francis, which will now be in Division I, also returns senior defenders Ethan Gould, Michael Gallegos and Smir Sheikh and senior midfielders Carlos Monserratt and Max Weideman-Escobedo.

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