Gilroy, Christopher in El Clasico

The Gilroy and Christopher boys soccer teams battled to a 1-1 draw in the first of two meetings this season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Whenever Gilroy High plays Christopher High—in any sport—it always carries a little more meaning. The boys soccer teams from the respective schools have extra incentive to win in the form of the Garlic Cup trophy. The Cougars are in possession of the trophy, but Gilroy has a slight leg up in its attempt to take the trophy back this season.

The teams played to a 1-1 draw on Jan. 4, the first of two Monterey Bay League Pacific Division matchups. The two schools have dubbed the game El Clasico, the name given to any time Real Madrid and Barcelona FC play each other. Gilroy coach Armando Padilla and Christopher coach Ricardo Espinosa agreed to decide this year’s trophy on aggregate scoring, something the Champions League employ.

That means away goals count more than home team scores, resulting in Gilroy receiving a bonus point for scoring on Christopher’s home field.

“They have a slight advantage,” Espinosa said. “We have to go to their house and need to win 1-0 or if they score, at least win by 2-1 or more.”

Both coaches agreed that last week’s matchup was competitive, intense and a clean match.

The squads took turns possessing the ball, and both goals were scored in the final 10 minutes of the match. The Mustangs, who entered the week at 4-2-4 overall and 1-0-1 in league, went up 1-0 as Juan Orozco crashed the goal and put one in after an absolute cannon for a shot from teammate Jacob Dolan led to a rebound in front.

Orozco punched in the deflection, taking advantage of a failed clearing attempt from Christopher. The Cougars, however, displayed plenty of grit themselves in getting the equalizer with three minutes remaining. Christopher, which entered the week at 2-4-2 overall and 0-1-1 in league, scored when Jose Flores launched a shot that landed just under the top crossbar.

Gilroy goalkeeper Gerardo Pina went up and deflected it, but the ball went into the goal. Flores, a sophomore midfielder, actually came out of the game in the 72nd minute because of leg cramps. However, Flores returned and launched the shot from 40 yards away that led to the tying goal.

“Jose is a battler,” Espinosa said. “One thing we talk about with the guys is having pride and playing from the first minute to the 80th. Jose came up big, and he was the game MVP, our captain and a leader. Our kids didn’t give up, and that was great to see.”

The rematch on Jan. 30 should be a doozy, considering by then both teams will know whether they have a legitimate shot of winning the championship and with it the division’s only automatic berth into the Central Coast Section playoffs.

“Our expectation coming into the season was to win league,” Padilla said. “The players worked hard in the preseason, and if they can put it all together and execute our system, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be on top of the standings at the end of the season.”

Padilla said he loved the talent and work ethic of this year’s team, and it has depth at almost every position. Senior midfielder Elias Diaz—“He’ll be our stud in the middle,” Padilla said—not only organizes the defense, but he initiates the team’s attack. Diaz and senior Gilberto Cardenas are the team’s pace setters.

“Those two are the battery to our team,” Padilla said. “If they’re on, then the whole team is usually moving well.”

Cruz Garcia, a senior forward, at 4-foot-11 is the shortest player on the team. However, Padilla said Garcia can flat-out play and is a difference-maker. Dolan entered the week with a team-high five goals to go along with two assists.

“He worked hard in the off-season and is putting himself in the right position at the right time to score,” Padilla said. “He’s a smart player and is developing in terms of reading the game and making adjustments to capitalize.”

Jeremy Mendoza, a senior defender, anchors the defense along with junior Carlos Guerrero. Pina, a junior, has done a terrific job considering he’s in in his first year of playing high school soccer. Add in the fact that Pina had never started taking goalkeeper reps in practice until Jan. 1—the day Gilroy’s former goalkeeper quit the team—makes Pina’s ascension in goal all the more remarkable.

Padilla hopes Eduardo Valencia, a senior midfielder, returns to 100 percent health soon. Valencia has missed several games due to injury, and he’s a nightmare for opposing teams to match up with.

“He has an ability on the ball that you don’t really see amongst high school players,” said Padilla, who compared Valencia’s game to some of the best players at Gilroy High in the last 15 years. “He’s got quickness, speed, control, the vision. He sees the whole field and puts the ball on a dime, and he’s got amazing dribbling and speed that allows him to beat players 1 on 1 and create space for himself.”

Espinosa also feels good about his team; in addition to Flores, the Cougars have a dynamic freshman left wing in Caden Booth, who entered the week with a team-best 10 goals in just six games.

“Caden is solid and a great, emerging player,” Espinosa said. “He still has some growing and maturing to do like all freshmen, but he’s going to be amazing in the years ahead.”

Booth usually finishes from 10 to 12 yards out, and like the best goal scorers has a knack for putting himself in a great position to receive the ball or deflection in the box and drill a shot with rapid-fire quickness.

Espinosa has been satisfied with his goalkeeping tandem of Paulo Gonzalez and Kyle Ferguson.

“We have two guys who can push each other and elevate each other’s play,” Espinosa said.

Elias Arvizo, a senior center back and midfielder, gives the team steady play on the backline. Espinosa said the coaching staff is working hard to fix some of the bad habits the players display while on the field.

“We’ll ask them to do certain things like release the ball faster, but they’re stubborn at times in not wanting to let go,” he said. “When that happens, we lose possession and it’s hard to be consistent with our flow of play. The great thing is (assistant) coach Tod Andrade and I love the kids, and they’ve got some good potential. We’re hoping to put together an amazing season.”

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