A key to Hart High boys soccer keeping its head after what could have been a devastating loss to open Foothill League play has been junior Jaden Nguyen’s noggin.
Nguyen, who sat out all of last season after transferring in and who didn’t break into the starting lineup until just before league this year, has scored seven goals through four Foothill League games.
Five of those scores have come via headers, one in the 4-1 loss to Saugus, two in a win over Canyon and one each in subsequent wins over West Ranch and Golden Valley.
Yes, Hart’s three straight wins have come against the bottom teams in league. But, the wins have no less kept the Indians (13-4-2 overall, 3-1-0 in Foothill) in the league title conversation, a dialogue that will take an important turn one way or the other today when they host first-place Valencia (11-2-3, 4-0-0) at 3:15 p.m.
The way things are going, the Vikings’ vaunted defense will surely want to keep an eye on the 5-foot-6 Nguyen when he gets into the 18-yard box.
“He’s one of the smallest guys.” Hart coach Adonay Jovel said of the outside midfielder. “… (But) he has good timing on the ball and every time the ball comes into the box in the air, he’s able to get to it, and he’s been putting it away.”
Asked why he’s so effective with his head, Nguyen credited his teammates’ passing abilities.
Really, though, it might have more to do with his dogged perseverance.
After transferring from Trinity Classical Academy, Nguyen had to sit out his sophomore season because the CIF-Southern Section ruled his transfer athletically motivated, he said. It was hard, he said, to watch from the sideline, feeling he could have contributed on a team that lost in the first round of the CIF playoffs.
But, he stuck with the sport, and he persevered even after he didn’t crack Hart’s starting lineup at the beginning of this year.
Then his play caught Jovel’s eye, and he began starting during the Cesar Chavez tournament when the Indians won five straight games to claim the tourney title.
The hot streak was short lived.
On Jan. 10, Saugus slugged Hart in the mouth.
“That lit a fire under us,” Nguyen said. “… It woke us up.”
It also put the Indians a game behind defending champion Valencia in the league’s standings, placing extra importance on today’s game.
“It’s not a championship game, but it is a championship game,” Jovel said. “This is where they could get ahead by six points or we can keep them right there next to us.
“It can be three teams (Valencia, Hart, Saugus) tied for first, or (Valencia) can go ahead of everyone. That’s what it means.”
The Indians’ lineup has been in flux due to injuries to three starters: Omar Gonzalez (head injury), an offensive midfielder/forward, will start today, while Luis Valadez (lower body injury) could play some minutes in the midfield. Senior midfielder Jose Chavez, however, is done for the season after dislocating his shoulder against Saugus, according to Jovel.
Another change in the midfield involves moving Michael Valencia to the back line to provide more experience in the defensive third.
That will be key today as the Indians defend Valencia’s strong counterattacks and direct style of play.
“We know we have to stay calm on the long ball,” Nguyen said, “and not panic when the ball is in the air.”