For the first time in eight seasons, Saugus Centurions boys’ soccer swept the Valencia Vikings in their season series.
Saugus took the round two battle on the road with a 1-0 victory on Thursday to seal the deal.
The Centurions (4-6-2, 4-2-1) were led by senior Jopeter Elia, who netted the game’s only score in his first game back from injury after missing six games.
Saugus took a corner kick that bounced out to Elia on the left wing late in the first half. The senior created some space for himself with a Viking defender all over him and drilled the ball just enough past the posts before it bounced out of the goal.
Centurions head coach Seth Groller was thrilled to have his senior back.
“One of our players, Jopeter, came back,” Groller said. “This was his first game back from an injury. He’s been out for a number of games. And so his first game back and he had the game of his life. He just was everywhere for us not only contributing with the goal but there defensively for clearances. His play all around was phenomenal today.”
Valencia (4-5-3, 2-3-2) has been hammered with injuries this season. The team was missing five starters in Thursday’s Foothill League contest without starting forward Azael Jovel, who missed the game with a red card.
Saugus was also without one of its best defenders in Dylan Silva. The defender sat out Thursday night’s battle with a red card in his previous match.
The Centurions dominated possession for most of the game. The team won the majority of balls in the midfield and turned quickly to keep pressure on Valencia.
“We always try to keep the ball within us,” Elias said. “Our midfield always tries to pass the ball, get quick combos and we always try to play aggressively when the ball is up.”
Saugus only amped up after Elia’s goal but Vikings keeper Jeffery Villeda and the Valencia backline were able to keep the team within one.
Vikings head coach Jose Villafan made adjustments at halftime to bypass getting balls through the midfield, where Saugus was in complete control. Valencia opted to force-feed its forwards long balls, which took a little time but worked wonders.
“We were having issues getting in rhythm in the midfield,” Villafan said. “At halftime, I made some adjustments and tried to get players on line by bypassing their midfield and it worked. Saugus didn’t adjust but we couldn’t finish on any opportunities.”
One of Valencia’s best chances came off the foot of senior Nadeem Maroun in the 63rd minute. A nice touch from Jordan Cardenas set up Maroun for a shot but the senior just missed the bottom left corner.
The Vikings were able to keep building up the pressure late in the game on Saugus and freshman keeper Ethan Murrillo held up.
Elias would exit the game in stoppage time with his second rough foul, giving the Vikings a one-man advantage. However, it was too little too late and Murrillo escaped with his fifth clean sheet of the year and his second against Valencia.
It’s been a rocky start to the season for the Centurions but a win to start the second half of league play has boosted them into second place in the Foothill League.
“We had a decent first round of league,” Groller said. “I feel like we were kind of struggling with just putting the ball in the back of the net. The goals haven’t come as easily this year as they’ve come in the past. So that’s definitely something that we’ve been working on.”
Both teams have just five league matches left to remain in the top four.
“Obviously, it’s been a tough season with our record but we’re gonna get into it,” Elias said. “This is the first game of the second half of the season. We’ll try to keep it like this, try to keep winning and keep the chemistry going.”
Saugus will be back in action on Tuesday with a 3:15 p.m. road game at West Ranch. Valencia will also be on the road on Tuesday as the team heads to Castaic. Villafan believes his injury-plagued team is in good shape to make the playoffs in the coach’s first year. He’ll aim to push the team to play an intense 80 minutes of soccer every time the Vikings retake the field.
“Closing out league, I really wanna see them battle for 80 minutes regardless of the result,” Villafan said. “If they play the way they did in the second half, I don’t care if we win, lose or tie, I’ll coach a fighting team any day of the week regardless of the outcome.”