The La Cañada High boys' soccer team flexed its muscle last weekend in the Ayala Bulldog Classic Tournament. The Spartans came in as favorites to win the tournament and they didn't disappoint, winning the first three games with ease before facing a test in the final.
Barry Ritson said his Cañada squad is better this year than it was last season, when it came three wins away from a winning a CIF Southern Section championship.
"This group is more complete than the group last year. We had a fantastic group last year, but these boys have come together a lot quicker than last year," said Ritson, the second-year Spartan's coach. "I think we're better equipped to make a run at the CIF championship this year."
Cameron Meeker's two-goal effort propelled La Cañada to a 3-0 victory in the first round against tournament host Ayala. Goalie Jack Hale was also able to record his fourth shutout of the year against the Bulldogs. Hale gave up just two goals in the next two games, as the Spartans destroyed Yucca Valley, 8-1, and Glendora, 4-1.
Meeker, Armand Bagramyan and Matthew Canatta fueled La Cañada's offense against Yucca Valley, as they have all season. The three forwards at the top of the Spartan's formation had two goals and one assist each against the Trojans. Meeker continued his strong play against Glendora, knocking in three more goals against them.
"Offensively, we can't be stopped," Ritson said. "We pose a lot of problems up top with Armand, Matt and Cameron. No one can even handle them."
It was La Cañada's offense that made the difference against Diamond Bar in the championship game after strong defensive play in the first three contests of the tournament.
"The boys in the back have been very, very solid in all the games we played, but we had two defensive breakdowns in the final," Ritson said. "We went up early and the guys kind of relaxed."
A two-goal La Cañada lead shrunk into a one-goal edge, as the Spartans went into halftime up, 3-2.
"I kind of dressed the boys down at halftime because no one is going to stop us from scoring goals this year, and I feel like we can be great defensively. I want my team to be one that's going to hit you, work hard and not give you a second on the ball," Ritson said.
Neil Ignacio of the Brahmas pestered La Cañada the entire game, scoring three goals for the Brahmas. His effort wasn't enough to overcome an onslaught by Bagramyan, who finished the game with two goals and an assist, and Canatta, who scored twice against Diamond Bar. The Spartans preserved the one-goal edge and turned it into a 5-4 win.
Although Ritson's squad came into the tournament as favorites, the coach thought the Spartans won the title in surprising fashion.
"We played some better teams than what we thought we'd be facing, and won big," he said. "I didn't think we'd win it as easily as we did."
Meeker, Bagramyan and Canatta finished the Ayala Classic with big numbers. Meeker notched seven goals and two assists, Bagramyan recorded four goals and four assists and Canatta scored five times and had two assists. Arash Mahboubi had a good tournament without scoring as many goals. He effectively distributed the ball to La Cañada's primary goal-scorers, coming out of the four games with eight assists and one goal.