Saugus and Valencia highs will commence a chess match today.
The defending Foothill League champion Vikings will aim to dictate where on the field the upstart Centurions can play — and when they can play there.
Saugus will look for holes in Valencia’s vaunted defense and hope for a pinpoint cross or timely run.
Today’s game at Saugus won’t decide the Foothill League boys soccer title, but it will place someone firmly in the driver’s seat.
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“We are definitely pumped,” said Saugus coach Seth Groller, who made it over to Canyon High on Tuesday night to see the Vikings finish off the Cowboys, 3-1.
Groller knows Valencia (10-2-3 overall, 3-0-0 in Foothill) will try to pack eight players behind the ball defensively. He knows the Centurions (9-4-3, 3-0-0) won’t be able to work with as much space in the attacking third as they might normally enjoy.
“With any team, there are openings,” Groller said. “We have to find those openings when they present themselves and make the best of them.”
Saugus, of any Foothill League team, probably has the most dynamic threat when it comes to exposing those openings. James Johnson leads the league with 18 goals, four of which have come in Foothill League play where the Centurions have outscored their opponents 12-1.
That run started with an impressive 4-1 road win over Hart.
Valencia has outscored league opponents 13-3, with two of the three goals against coming in second halves when the Vikings were comfortably ahead.
However, Valencia hasn’t played a league team the caliber of Hart. Not that it concerns coach Tony Scalercio.
“It doesn’t matter who we play or the order we play them,” Scalercio said. “Every game we go out and try to execute things we work on. … It doesn’t make a difference.”
The Vikings hope senior forward Josh Ferguson — who, like Johnson, is a returning All-CIF player — will continue to make a difference.
Ferguson has scored five of his team-leading 15 goals in league play.
He scored four times in a 6-1 win over Golden Valley last week.
Cesar Dominguez is another offensive threat, while varsity newcomers Ian Young and Brennan Book continue to improve.
Sophomore Frank Ornelas has been the top newcomer for Saugus. The center midfielder’s stats aren’t eye-popping (one goal, four assists), but he’ll be crucial with ball control and passing.
“Maybe he doesn’t get the assists,” Groller said, “but he makes the pass that gets through and allows the other guy to get the assist.”
Today, he’ll be looking for 6-foot-2, 195-pound Josh De Leon (eight goals, five assists) and Collin Infuso (three goals, six assists) — two players Valencia likely won’t treat any different than Johnson.
Much like Valencia didn’t focus on Godinez standout Bryan Ibarra in the CIF SoCal Regional Division 4 title match last year, expect the Vikings defense to look at Saugus holistically and focus on forcing the Cents into certain parts of the field.
Valencia’s main focus will be limiting mistakes.
“Winning has nothing to do with how many good plays you make,” Scalercio said. “Winning is all about limiting how many bad plays you make.”