In the immediate aftermath of a 2-0 defeat to Lincoln High last year in the opening round of the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs, Gilroy High boys soccer coach Armando Padilla had a look of peace and contentment. Sure, the Mustangs had just saw their season end, but in the bigger picture of things, the 2017-2018 season was a huge success.
Not only did Gilroy post its first winning seasons in four years—it finished 10-7-4—but Padilla knew the team was only graduating a couple of starters and would have the core nucleus of the squad returning this season.
“The loss was a little disappointing, but at the same time, we had eight juniors on the field and two sophomores. We knew this year could be better,” said Padilla, who is in his 16th year as the Gilroy High coach and 19th overall as he spent three years as the junior varsity coach prior to taking over the varsity program. “One of our goals is to be a league champion and we have CCS (Central Coast Section playoff) goals as well, but I don’t want to get to far ahead of myself.”
Translation: Padilla believes in the talent and makeup of his players; however, he knows the team will only achieve its vast potential if it sticks to the present and works hard everyday. To that end, Padilla said the players have all bought in and are making a conscious effort to go hard and take the trusted game-by-game approach.
“It’s easy for the kids to get excited, but we have to stay grounded and remind ourselves to keep working hard and not letting up,” Padilla said. “I would say we have a little more talent than last year, but the difference for us is last year’s team had a chemistry on the field and was a cohesive group. That is what we’re working toward for this year’s team. If we can build that cohesiveness on the field, then we can talk about getting farther in the playoffs.”
The Mustangs have talent at every position, including the backline, where senior sweeper Carlos Guerrero provides the last line of defense for goalkeepers Joshua Moya and Daniel Jimenez. A pair of seniors, Joel Trujillo and Juan Orozco, join Guerrero to form one of the greatest strengths of the team. Through the team’s first four matches in which it went 3-0-1, opposing coaches have complemented Padilla on the Mustangs’ back line.
“Some coaches have said our team is very disciplined in the back and it is very fast transitioning to defense and going forward transitioning into offense,” Padilla said. “The Pajaro (Valley) coach said he liked the way we possessed the ball and that we were playing the right way.”
Meaning Gilroy aims to play a possession-type game featuring quick touches and passes all over the field as opposed to playing a kick ball type of game. Junior Edward Aparicio makes the team go as a dynamic defensive midfielder. Every successful team needs a safety net, and Aparicio provides that for the Mustangs in that he can hold the possession and has the ability to shift on a moment’s notice.
Another junior midfielder, Brahel Morales, didn’t play for the team last year after making the squad as a freshman. Two years ago, Padilla said Morales had yet to hit his growth spurt and got pushed around by the opposition, resulting in injuries early in the season. However, Morales has come back bigger, stronger and with added talent.
“He’s not only come back taller, but he has a little more meat on his bones,” Padilla said. “And he came back with a little more skill with his feet, so he’s been a nice surprise for us after he didn’t play last year.”
Davi Prado, another junior midfielder, has been consistent in his play, which has impacted the team in a positive way. Senior Henrii Reyes, despite being a first-year player in the program, has boosted the team with a flair for the dramatic.
“Henrii brings excitement to the game because you never know what he’s going to do in a 1 versus 1 situation,” Padilla said. “He has the skill to attack players and attack space, and against Pajaro he and the midfield were kind of the highlight in that he drew the penalty kick for us after he went at the defender and challenged him to draw the foul. We put the PK away for the only goal of the game.”
In junior forward Ciro Badillo, Gilroy has a player who can flat-out blow by defenders and unleash shots in rapid-fire fashion.
“Ciro has a lot of raw power, and you’re not going to get anything too fancy out of him, which is fine because he’s coming at you,” Padilla said. “If he has 10, 15 yards ahead of him, more than likely he will out-run or out-physical the defender and at least put a shot on goal if he doesn’t score.”
The Mustangs have several players who are capable of scoring, making them a dangerous team because opponents won’t be able to key in on one particular player.
“This year is different in that we have five to six guys with a knack and nose for the goal,” Padilla said. “In (the first) four games, we’ve had seven different players score a goal. That kind of tells you we’re dangerous on all sides. I foresee a lot of players getting close to double-digit goals, and maybe four to five guys getting past the double-digit mark.”
Gerardo Pina has the ability to reach double-digit goals, as he puts himself in the right spots on the field to maximize his scoring chances. Pina blends a hard-nosed attitude with a strong soccer acumen.
“Gerardo is not the flashiest or the fastest, but he knows when to take the shot and when to pass it,” Padilla said. “Against Pajaro he got the ball around the 18 and two defenders collapsed on him. He passed it to Ciro, who blasted the shot over the crossbar. We didn’t score but that play showed the type of awareness Gerardo has. If we get more opportunities like that, we’ll be in good shape.”
When the Mustangs are involved in a tight match, it’s players like Aparicio who make a difference. Padilla said Aparicio will find ways to get up in the attack and has an uncanny sense near the goal. Alberto Hernandez, a senior midfielder/forward, also has been putting a number of shots on goal.
“He’s had several shots and once he gets one in, it’s going to rain goals for him,” Padilla said. “He finds a way to get around players and get to the goal. Now it’s all about working on his finishing ability.”
Gilroy has the luxury of having two quality goalkeepers in Moya and Jimenez. Most high school teams are fortunate to have one solid keeper, and that is actually what the Mustangs will be reduced to once Moya joins rejoins his Academy team around Jan. 12. Padilla said Moya has been a standout figure in that he has mentored Jimenez on the nuances of playing goalkeeper.
“I’m very happy to know that Daniel has Josh to guide him for the rest of the year and into early January,” Padilla said. “Daniel will be the future goalie for Gilroy High School, and he’ll be a good one. He’s a raw kid who has loads of talent. The one thing he brings is he’s fearless in the back, but obviously the other parts of the game comes with maturity and experience in terms of being a general on the field from the backline going forward.”
When it comes to boys soccer, Gilroy High has one of the tradition-rich programs in the CCS. In the last several years, losing top players to Academy programs have hurt it from a won-loss standpoint. However, this season Padilla said the team will lose only one player to an Academy whereas in the last several years that number ranges from three to five players opting to play for an Academy and not the high school.
Gilroy last won a CCS playoff championship five years ago, and only time will tell if this year’s team has what it takes to get back on the summit. Whatever happens, Padilla said the season will be successful if the players continue to work hard, stay disciplined and play unselfish soccer. The results, of course, will take care of themselves.
Players are held accountable through a buddy system, where each player has his own personal cheerleader/coach to remind him of the daily process and staying motivated when things are not going well. Like any solid buddy system, the buddy should be able to rebuke the player if he is not giving a maximum effort, either in practice or in a match.
“The players should check each other and motivate each other on the field,” Padilla said. “That is where you want to be as a team because as coaches we’re stuck on the sideline, so they’re ultimately the problem-solvers on the field.”
Through the first couple of matches, Padilla said he was pleased with the team meeting its short-term goals, which are building blocks for the bigger goals.
“I know if the kids put the goals together and work hard, we could put together a special year,” he said.