For the first time since the 2017-2018 season—a span of eight matches—Christopher High has beaten crosstown rival Gilroy High in boys soccer.
On Jan. 25, the visiting Cougars rolled to a 3-0 win in a Blossom Valley Athletic League Santa Teresa East Division match—nearly five years to the exact day the last time they beat the Mustangs. On Jan. 30, 2018, Christopher edged its rivals, 1-0.
It’s not as if Gilroy has been dominating the series of late, as previous to this match the teams had finished in a draw four consecutive times. However, GHS used to be a Central Coast Section power and pummeled CHS by scores of 3-1 and 6-1 in the 2018-2019 season.
So, the significance was not lost on Cougars coach Josue Salgado, who used to share an office with Mustangs coach Armando Padilla when Salgado was a P.E. teacher at GHS.
“Gilroy High School has always kind of been the powerhouse of soccer [locally], and we’ve been like the little brother, so it feels good to now not only be able to compete, but to walk in their home and have a convincing win,” Salgado said. “It’s an incredible and amazing feeling.”
The game might have taken a lot out of both sides. Two days after the match, CHS lost 3-0 to Sobrato and GHS lost 3-0 to Mount Pleasant. Christopher entered the week 8-3-3 overall and 3-2-1 in league, fourth place out of six teams. Meanwhile, the rebuilding Gilroy side entered the week 0-5-1 in division action.
Gilmar Torres, Michael Ruiz and Ezra Echauri scored within a 11-minute span in the first half, turning a scoreless game into a runaway. CHS forwards Avery Montejano and Torres gave Gilroy fits throughout the first half with their explosiveness in getting to the attacking third.
“Defensively, as a unit, we had yet to face someone as fast as their two attackers,” Padilla said. “They’re quick and that was the first time we faced speed like that, and we had a hard time adjusting to it in the first half. … But in the second half you can see we made our adjustment, stymied their speed and then we got on the front foot on both the first and second half. We just don’t have that one finisher.”
Both starting goalkeepers—the Mustangs’ Kevin Davidson and the Cougars’ Ricardo Bustamante—played well. In the first half, Davidson made a couple of tough stops to prevent the score from ballooning even further. In the 17th minute, Montejano made a run down the left sideline before delivering a great ball to the penalty area on the feet of Torres, who delivered a shot to the lower left corner.
However, Davidson made a diving save. Just minutes later, Echauri hit an absolute laser from 35 yards away that was thwarted by another tremendous stop from Davidson. However, Echauri wouldn’t be denied in the 37th minute, hammering home a direct free kick from just inside the left sideline to the opposite top right corner that would be considered a goal of the year candidate in any season.
“That’s something Ezra practices, but I tell him you hit them nice in practice, but I want to see you hit that in a game,” Salgado said. “And he hit it in arguably the biggest game of the year.”
Echauri’s goal capped a CHS uprising that started in the 26th minute when Torres received a great through ball and got in a 1-v-1 situation in the middle of the field. He dribbled 10 yards and darted to his left in gaining separation before delivering an unstoppable shot for a 1-0 lead.
Six minutes later, Echauri delivered a textbook corner kick to Ruiz, who scored on a header around the penalty area. Salgado noted the play of midfielders Echauri, Ruiz and Jason Procopio as being one of the keys to the season.
“Mikey and Jason do a great job of disrupting play, winning tackles and playing all out,” Salgado said. “And Ezra does a great job of orchestrating being that bridge from the defense to the midfielders to the attackers.”
Defensively, CHS has been solid with Daniel Diaz, Nicholas Armeniakos and Victor Ogieriakhi. Bustamante has been solid and made some impressive saves to preserve the shutout against GHS. Salgado said a crucial part to the team’s success has been watching film and constantly evaluating its play.
“We’re spending a lot of time in the library watching film,” he said. “I know that’s not always fun for the players to do. We try to watch two, sometimes even three times a week. They always hate when we start in the library because no one wants to see their mistakes and what they need to improve on. But when they do see it and they watch it, they apply it to practice and games. And that’s why we’ve been kind of able to hit our stride here.”
For the GHS side, it’s all about development and improvement. Eight of its starting 11 were either freshmen or sophomores, but Padilla said his young team is starting to acclimate to the varsity level.
“It’s a little more physical, a little faster, a little more direct,” he said. “You can see that with Christopher, obviously. They have two talented players up top. What’s the tactic? Just get the ball forward. We don’t have that player so we try to use our team, where we’re more of everyone shares the ball kind of touch every blade of grass on the field before we get forward.”
Padilla said the team has plenty of building blocks, including defenders Darren Hernandez, Angel Galicia, Brandon Bernardo; midfielders Ian Honeycutt, Nova Padilla, Guillermo Valdez; and up top with Kai Gemar.
“Obviously, if I grade the season on wins and losses, then we’ve had a horrible season. But I’m looking at development and the way we’ve been progressing throughout the season, and I think it’s been a huge success,” Padilla said. “So I’m happy with that and the kids are receptive to [my] philosophy and what we’re trying to teach. So I’m looking forward to next year and the year after that.”
The CHS-GHS matchup always has a nice turnout, and Salgado made sure to show appreciation for the fans’ support as he thanked the CHS crowd moments after the final whistle.
“I told our kids that this is a special type of game because it’s a small town so they all know each other and all their friends come out to watch,” Salgado said. “These games are super special.”