La Cañada High boys' soccer Coach Barry Ritson will be the first to say his team hasn't reached its potential yet. Hopes are that potential will be attained, now that the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs have begun.
"There's another level to this team," Ritson said. "We haven't strung together a complete performance yet this season and when we do, watch out, because not many teams can handle all the weapons we have offensively."
The Spartans, the Rio Hondo League champions and top-seeded team in their playoff bracket, have their first-round game postseason match at 3 p.m. Friday . Their opponent will be the winner of the CIF Division V wild-card game between Paloma Valley and Nogales. Looking at La Cañada's 22-0-2 record and 10-0 mark in Rio Hondo League, some might say the team can't get much better. But the players disagree.
"We aren't playing to our potential," said Cameron Meeker, whose 55 points (20 goals and 17 assists) are second only to Matt Canatta's 57 points (20 goals and 17 assists).
La Cañada will have to make the playoff push without defender Randy Gartside, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament against South Pasadena on Feb. 4 and is out for the rest of the year.
"That's a huge loss for us, if I'm being honest," Ritson said. "Does that mean we can't win CIF? We can absolutely win CIF. One player doesn't make this team and he will be missed, but it's time for someone else to step up and I'm sure they will."
Bad memories were left with La Cañada's players and fans after last season's end. The Spartans were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the CIF Division V tournament by Salesian, which got the 1-0 win off a golden goal in overtime.
The hope is the playoffs will force La Cañada to find its second gear. The Spartans' goal this season has been to prove they're better than last year, and in proving that, advance to the semifinals or finals of the playoffs
by outplaying the opposition. Even if the Spartans' opposition can hold Meeker and Canatta in check, almost every other La Cañada player can score.
Armand Bagramyan, a forward, has 43 points (18 goals and seven assists). In addition, Brian Blumenfeld, a midfielder, is dangerous with the ball at his feet — maintaining possession and creating scoring opportunities for himself and others. He has 33 points (12 goals and nine assists) so far this season. Another potent player is Arash Mahboubi, who is good at distributing the ball to one of his forwards or scoring himself. Mahboubi has 33 points (19 assists and seven goals).
Aram Bagramyan, a defensive leader for La Cañada at right-back, has his heart set on more than just CIF divisional competition.
"Right now, my main focus is on CIF (Division V) finals and then state — I really want to win both," he said. "Once we get to CIF, I think it's going to be a huge pickup for us. I plan on beating up on every team by at least five goals, that's the minimum."
Canatta doesn't want to see the team get ahead of itself, though.
"I take it game by game, you have to win every game before you get to the end," Canatta said.
The Spartans' problems won't be cured until they start converting more of their scoring chances, Ritson said.
"We average 18 shots on goal a game, and we're scoring four on average," Ritson said. "Sooner rather than later that average has to increase to six or seven goals, and I would love for that to come in CIF playoffs to show everyone the Rio Hondo League is strong, it's just that La Cañada is a little bit special."