Saugus boys take league opener over Valencia, 1-0

Citrus Hill’s Manuel Talavera, 11, and Saugus’s Gage Fritz, 27, both go for a header in the first half of the CIF Southern Section 2022 Boys' Soccer Championships between the Saugus Centurions and the Citrus Hill Hawks at Saugus High School on Friday Feb. 18, 2022. The Centurions lost to the Hawks in penalties. Chris Torres/The Signal

Saugus junior Alejandro Zalamea scored the lone goal as the Centurions (1-0-1, 1-0) won their Foothill League opener, 1-0, over the Valencia Vikings (1-1, 0-1) at Saugus High on Thursday. 

Zalamea scored his goal with just under 28 minutes to go in the second half, latching on to a pass down the right wing from senior Cole Parker, which pulled Valencia’s goalkeeper out of his goal and allowed Zalamea to roll the ball into the left corner. 

Zalamea, who came on as a substitute at the start of the second half, was one of Saugus head coach Seth Groller’s tactical changes in the second half, pushing his team into the wider areas to put more pressure on the Valencia defense. 

“[Groller] told me to trust the system,” Zalamea said. “You know, trusting the team, open wide support, make the runs that’s needed, go through the open space, got past, I was able to score that goal.” 

The first half saw both teams battling in the midfield. Shots were few and far between, which prompted Groller to make some changes at halftime to get his forwards into better attacking positions. 

“We identified a few things in the first half where we felt like we had opportunities but we just weren’t exposing certain areas of the field and certain players,” Groller said. “Second half, we did that a lot better. We were winning the ball a little bit higher up the field, and so our point of attack started much higher for us.” 

Saugus had four shots on goal in the second half after recording just one in the first half. 

Valencia head coach Jose Villafan, in charge of just his second match in what is his first year at the helm, said that after what he thought was an even first half, the Vikings simply weren’t ready for the increased pressure that the Centurions showed in the second half. 

“Probably the biggest issue for us was trying to get away from that pressure,” Villafan said. “So, we’ll work tactically and technically on how to identify that and what we need to do to make it better. The pressure was intense, and they didn’t let us build out, so we just have to be able to do a better job at identifying and skipping those lines of pressure.” 

The Vikings weren’t without their chances, though they did come against the run of play for the most part. Saugus freshman Ethan Murillo was a huge part of denying those chances in goal, coming out to kill off counters while also knowing when to stay home and let his defenders clean up in front of goal. Murillo made only two saves, both in the first half, though many of his goal-saving actions were denying the chance of a shot rather than defending a shot. 

“As a freshman stepping in between the posts, it’s something that’s pretty special to see,” Groller said. “He’s been proving himself in practice and in the scrimmages and preseason games, and definitely kept the clean sheet for us, along with our defense.” 

Murillo was hard to reach in goal due to the strength of the Saugus midfielders. Seniors Gage Fritz and Dominic Varsam and junior Andrew Alfaro were everywhere in the middle third of the field, cutting out Valencia’s attacks and starting attacks of their own. 

“[They] really just did an awesome job of contesting every single 50-50 ball and winning most of them, and giving us that leg up that was huge for us,” Groller said. 

Saugus will stay at home for its next match when it hosts West Ranch on Tuesday at 3:15 p.m. 

Valencia will host Castaic at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, and Villafan is hoping his attacking players will be able to showcase their skills and grab the Vikings’ first league win of the season. 

“Hopefully, if we could get the ball to our offensive players, which are very explosive, we would be very dangerous,” Villafan said. 

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