A high school athletic league, really, is a mishmash of narratives.
It’s a place where teams on the rise and teams hunting a repeat face off. It’s a place where individuals chase program records and others simply try to make the team.
Foothill League boys soccer is no different. Valencia is coming off the best season in the history of the Santa Clarita Valley. Canyon and Golden Valley are looking to rebuild.
Saugus’ James Johnson is chasing the Centurions’ single-season goal record, while dozens of newcomers across the league are looking to score their first Foothill League goal.
With league openers set for Tuesday, coaches agree there is no clear favorite.
But, at least one squad will write a Foothill title into its narrative.
Here’s a look at all six teams in the order they finished last year:
The Vikings (7-2-3 overall) present an interesting juxtaposition.
With five starters returning from last season’s CIF SoCal Regional championship team, Valencia has a level of confidence that comes from having been there, done that.
On the other hand, with numerous new players on the roster, the team knows it will have to go through the same growing pains that the 2015-16 squad experienced on its way to the regional title (the first in SCV history).
“Last year, most of the guys hadn’t played on varsity,” said coach Tony Scalercio. “It’s kind of the same thing.”
Senior returners Josh Ferguson (10 goals) and Cesar Dominguez (nine goals) have led the team in scoring through 12 games. They’re joined by fellow returning senior starters Sean Kim, David Juico and Omar Darwish.
Kim (outside midfielder), Juico (outside defender), Dominguez (center mid) and Ferguson (forward) are playing the same positions they played during Valencia’s 2016 Foothill League title run.
But Darwish has moved from center back to “sweeper,” the last line of defense before Valencia’s keeper. He takes over the role from 2016 graduate Patrick Miller.
The Vikings also graduated goalie Guy Vennero, and the position remains a toss-up between senior Dillon Alvarenga and junior Daniel Rodriguez.
Sophomore newcomers Brennan Book, a forward, and Ian Young, a midfielder, and freshman defender Julio Dominguez should help the Vikings fill holes left by the graduation of 2016 All-CIF players Javier Orellana and Luis Garcia Sosa.
Coach Adonay Jovel said this week his team isn’t thinking about the way last year ended — the forfeit of two games after self-reporting the use of an ineligible player, costing the team a shot at the Foothill title, and a subsequent first-round playoff exit.
“That’s in the past,” said Jovel, whose team is currently 5-3-1. “We’re just focused on playing good soccer and doing the small things, like being able to connect passes.”
That shouldn’t be difficult for a team that boasts a strong midfield.
Seniors Michael Valencia, an All-SCV first-teamer in 2015, and Jesus Ocampo, a captain, are joined at the position by newcomers Darwin Herrera, Luis Valadez and Jose Chavez.
“I think for us, it’s always been that center mid position (that’s been strong),” Jovel said. “We always get a bunch of players there.”
Hart, though, is looking for others to join senior Enrique Perez as consistent performers in the attacking third.
Goalkeeper is another question mark for the Indians, who won back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015 but finished second to Valencia last season.
If Hart is going to return to the top, it will need someone to take ownership of the goalie position.
The Centurions (6-3-3) return the league’s most dangerous scoring threat in James Johnson (20 goals last season), but Saugus isn’t a one-man band. Senior forward Josh De Leon gives the Cents a burly, physical presence up top.
He’s scored five goals and assisted on three others.
Four players (senior Collin Infuso and juniors Jeremy Hindigian, Tanner Brown and Jayden Willsey) have each scored two goals for Saugus, which started the year 1-2 but has only lost once in its last nine outings, three ties and five wins — including a 3-2 victory over Hart at the Hart Soccer Showcase last month.
Coach Seth Groller believes the team is hitting its stride at the right time as it tries to build on last year’s trip to the CIF quarterfinals, its best playoff showing since 2007, and takes aim at its first league title since 2008.
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The key will be a rebuilt defense.
“We brought back our offensive team from last year, but our defense is basically all brand new,” Groller said.
Saugus brings back five starters: Johnson, De Leon, holding midfielder Brown, left wing Wyatt Vradenberg and right wing Infuso.
Senior Josh Taylor started last year but tore his ACL on Dec. 22 against Burroughs of Burbank, an injury that created a gaping hole in the midfield and necessitated a position change for Brown.
Sophomore Frank Ornelas (four assists) has been a strong newcomer in the midfield.
The Wildcats (2-2-1) remained in the playoff hunt for most of the Foothill season last year. But a 2-0 loss to Saugus on Feb. 9 led to a 3-5-2 finish in league.
Coach Louis Mogrovejo believes his team can finish in the top three this season. If that’s the case, it will have a lot to do with the team’s three captains: junior center back Joshua Campagna and senior center mids Bradley Nichols and Tyler Mendes.
The trio is key to solid team chemistry.
“The energy of the team and how they come together this year is a lot stronger than last year,” Mogrovejo said. “We had a couple hiccups here and there last year, but this year the boys have really come together. We had a good run in the preseason.”
That run has been accomplished with balanced scoring.
“It’s been bouncing around,” Mogrovejo said of his team’s goal scoring. “That’s the nice part.”
Juniors Daniel Kim (an All-SCV honorable mention choice in 2016) and Freddy Montes are other key returners. This year, Montes shifted from wing to center mid so his aggressive play and solid ball control can be put to better use.
The Wildcats open Foothill League play on Jan. 10 at Valencia.
The Cowboys are looking to break out of a four-year funk, one in which they’ve finished fifth or last every season.
At 0-6-5, they’re still looking for their first win. But rival coaches have taken note: Canyon looks improved.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to put a whole 80 minutes together,” said coach Robert Benavidez. “But we’re moving the ball really well. We just haven’t found that person, or group of guys, to put the ball in the net on a consistent basis.”
Senior Eduardo Ayala and junior Alex Delgado co-lead the team in goals with two apiece. Delgado, promoted from the junior varsity this year, brings speed to the table. But Canyon is still looking for players to complement him in the attacking third.
One possibility is junior newcomer David Hernandez, a midfielder/forward. Other options, because of the makeup of the team, are also new to varsity.
“We have a ton of kids up from the junior varsity squad,” Benavidez said. “… We believe they’ll do some good things for the program (moving forward).”
Sophomore midfielder Tito Gonzalez and junior mid Joshua Roque are expected to contribute this year.
First-year coach Guillermo Castro is taking a page out of Leicester City coach Claudio Ranieri’s book. In 2015, Ranieri asked his team for just 40 points in the Premier League standings, but his underdog squad went on to win a championship.
Castro wants three wins from his Grizzlies. Anything after that is icing on the cake for a program that won all of two games last season.
“If we get three wins, I’ll give you a new goal,” Castro said.
Golden Valley’s administration believes Castro has brought a breath of fresh air to the program, energy that Castro wants to spread to a team that struggled with maintaining a winning attitude amid early season struggles.
A timely team meeting and a win over Chatsworth on Dec. 9 appeared to build some momentum. But the Grizzlies then forfeited two tournament games due to injuries and lost 5-1 to Alemany on Dec. 21.
Still, there is talent on the team.
Senior defender Hayden Alley, captain, is “everything you want in a center back,” Castro said. Senior Darian Cerin (three goals) provides experience, and sophomore midfielder Matthew Kanjeyo, a captain, bolsters the defense as the holding midfielder.
Kanjeyo transferred to Golden Valley from England last semester, according to Castro.
“He’s going to be really interesting to watch,” the coach said.