There was no question the La Cañada High boys' soccer team had plenty of talent coming into the 2011 season, as several seniors returned to lead the Spartans to a deep CIF Southern Section Division V playoff.
Those who rose above the rest were singled out when the All-CIF Southern Section Division V team was released on March 22. Senior forwards Cameron Meeker and Matt Canatta were first-team selections, Spartans midfielder Arash Mahboubi and goalkeeper Jack Hale were named to the second team and sophomore forward Armand Bagramyan was chosen on the third team.
Meeker and Canatta had incredible seasons, La Cañada Coach Barry Ritson said, after the pair carried the Spartans offensively last season as well.
"If you take the black and white view and look at their stats, I think that tells you the overall story of their season. They always stepped up to the plate and carried the team at times," Ritson said.
Both players' stat lines are nearly identical — Meeker with 24 goals and 19 assists and Canatta with 21 goals and 20 assists. Their individual styles of play couldn't be more different, though. Meeker is a strong, overpowering player down low and Canatta is an elusive, creative player with the ball at his feet.
"[Cameron's] a big, strong boy who understands the game and can bring the other kids into the play. He was kind of the leader in the final third. He was very encouraging, like a captain. He has outstanding goal-scoring ability and was really crucial to the way we played this year," Ritson said.
"Mattie was that guy we looked to when things weren't really going our way," he added. "All of the sudden, he can create something out of nothing. He has a very clear vision of what he wants to do when he gets the ball."
Bagramyan was the final piece of a trio of Spartans forwards that proved too much for many opposing defenses to handle. Both finished the season with more than 20 goals each. Defenses had to pick their poison against La Cañada, Ritson said.
"You couldn't double anyone because Armand can score," said Ritson, as Bagramyan finished the season with 21 goals and eight assists and made Rio Hondo's second team. "He's a mix of Meeker and Canatta. Armand is a powerful runner who can finish, and that brought balance to the team."
Behind the formidable forwards was an equally dangerous group of midfielders. Mahboubi was a distributor for the Spartans, often choosing to make the extra pass instead of taking a shot. He finished with 19 assists and eight goals.
"[Mahboubi] was like the puppet master in the midfield, and he had two guys alongside him in Danny [Thompson] and Brian [Blumenfeld], who allowed him to do that. He was that spark in the midfield and the catalyst for a lot of what we did in the final third," Ritson said.
Thompson and Blumenfeld, both senior midfielders, made the Rio Hondo League first and second teams, respectively. Thompson, primarily a defensive midfielder, finished the season with one goal and two assists.
Blumenfeld was also known for getting under the opposition's skin on defense, while also being able to hurt them on offense. He finished with 13 goals and 10 assists.
Hale was at the center of an overlooked defense that allowed just 19 goals all season, while La Cañada's offense found the back of the net 108 times. Hale had 12 shutouts and came up with a penalty-kick save in the second round of the playoffs against Whittier Christian that proved to be the difference.
"He's the best high school keeper out there from what I've seen," said Ritson — a big compliment coming from the Los Angeles Premier Futbol Club's director of coaching and vice president of Launch Sports Inc.
Randy Gartside also made Rio Hondo League's first team after leading La Cañada's final line of defense for most of the season until he tore his anterior-cruciate ligament before the playoffs. He had one goal and three assists.
Senior defenders Arshia Zare and Aram Bagramyan were both honorable-mention All-Rio Hondo League selections. Zarea finished with one goal, and Aram had one goal and five assists.