Hart boys’ soccer needed a bit of time to find its groove, but in the end, the Indians (6-1, 3-0) were able to coast to a 5-0 Foothill League win over the Castaic Coyotes (2-4, 0-3) on Thursday at Castaic High School.
Hart senior Trenton Rickard notched two goals in the win, one in each half, while sophomore Diego Rodriguez recorded a goal and an assist coming off the bench in the second half.
Both teams used the first 15 minutes of the first half to find the rhythm of the game. Hart had a few shots in that time that showed the Indians would eventually hit their mark, and they found that first goal through senior Marcos Flores, who was able to adjust to a saved shot and put away the rebound with just over 23 minutes to play in the first half.
“The opponent defended really well, and us, as a team, we kind of weighed the first few minutes every game, even the first half, just to see how the opponent was playing,” Hart head coach Gio Salinas said.
Rickard picked up his first goal with 11 minutes to play in the first half to give the Indians a 2-0 halftime lead. Hart did well to release Nicholas Hernandez down the left flank before sending in a far-post cross that Rickard was able to head into the back of the net.
It didn’t take long for Rickard to add to his tally, as he launched a 30-yard strike not even two minutes into the second half past the Castaic keeper to make it 3-0.
“He’s our MVP the past two seasons,” Salinas said. “That’s the reason why he’s been the MVP, is because his athletic ability, it’s just phenomenal. And that’s why whenever he goes in, he always makes a huge impact.”
Salinas made some changes after that to give his bench players some more playing time, and they did not disappoint.
Rodriguez shined the brightest of those players, always looking like a threat coming off the left side of the Indians’ attack. His goal came with just under 11 minutes to play, a mazy run through the Castaic defense that ended with Rodriguez slotting it past the keeper.
Rodriguez got his assist with just under three minutes to play, giving junior Samahj Oyewo a pass to finish from close range and put the game to bed at 5-0.
Rodriguez’s goal was his first for the Hart varsity team.
“I always try to fight for my spot,” Rodriguez said. “Never gonna stop fighting for my spot.”
He entered the second half with the mentality of leaving his mark, and he did just that, not only with his end product, but also with his tenacity to constantly attack.
“Mentality is just the same thing [off the bench],” Rodriguez said. “Just keep trying to score. It doesn’t matter. You also want to get the win, the more goals we get, the better, obviously, but yeah, just keep that same focus.”
Salinas was proud of his substitutes for keeping the pressure on and not holding back. He feels that with the quality of depth that has been assembled in this year’s squad that there are more players in the discussion to start every match.
“I feel like this team is different compared to the others, past seasons, or since I took over the Hart program,” Salinas said. “This team is more of a family. We all believe in each other. And that’s why when those players that went in, got playing time. I mean, they actually made an impact.
“We have 150 students trying out every single year to make it on varsity. Today, they made the statement why they are on varsity.”
Castaic head coach Fernando Mahaluf, in the midst of his first season in charge of the Coyotes, was pleased with his team’s performance until the Indians were able to break through for their first goal. He said that once his players tried to fight back and get an equalizer, the game opened up and the Indians were able to take advantage of the space made available.
“The very first 20 minutes, we were playing disciplined and we were playing with a form,” Mahaluf said. “Then after the first goal they started looking for that tie, and that’s when they got disorganized. And then the second goal came and then they completely lost the structure.”
Mahaluf is trying to take the positives away from the loss, though, and one of those positives is that his players have learned what doesn’t work.
“The good news about losing is that you get to improve,” Mahaluf said. “You get to improve, you learn from your losses, you learn from your mistakes, and there’s only one way, and that’s up, after this.”
Both teams will take some time off before getting back into action after the holiday break.
The Coyotes don’t play again until Jan. 3 when they travel to face Canyon at 5 p.m. for another Foothill League matchup.
The Indians will be hosting their Hart Soccer Showcase just after Christmas. The first games will be played on Tuesday, Dec. 27, followed by games on Wednesday and Thursday. The championship games will be played on that Thursday, Dec. 29, as well.
After that, it’s back to the regular season and, the Indians are hoping, a fourth straight Foothill League title.
“It feels good to get a win right before the break,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been practicing hard. We’ve been showing that we’re coming out for another league title.”