For the first 40 minutes of its Nov. 26 season-opener, the Gilroy High boys soccer team was on the defensive, unable to possess the ball for even short periods of time. The Mustangs were fortunate to be tied at halftime in their home match against San Benito High. Whether a team is up, down or tied at the half, adjustments need to be made. In Gilroy’s case, however, it wasn’t the typical X’s and O’s adjustments that coach Armando Padilla stressed to his players.
“We made an adjustment in terms of our attitude and just being more competitive,” said Padilla, who is in his 17th season as the Gilroy coach. “We needed to be a little more aggressive in terms of trying to win more balls, and I thought Hollister did a good job of just being a bully on the field (in the first half). They were out-hustling and physically out-muscling us, so we had to match that intensity and physicality in the second half.”
And that’s exactly what the Mustangs did. Despite being out-sized, Gilroy controlled the run of play in the second half, seizing a noticeable time of possession advantage. After getting outshot by a wide disparity in the first 40 minutes, the Mustangs turned the tables on the Balers in the second half.
Starting in the 68th minute, Gilroy attacked the San Benito goal with strong runs as players like Jefferson Cruz stayed aggressive and was on the offensive. Edward Aparicio accounted for the only goal of the game when he converted a penalty kick in the 78th minute after a San Benito player was called for a hand ball inside the penalty area. The head referee and linesmen initially did not call for a penalty shot only to change their minds upon a conference.
“That was pretty brave of the referee,” Padilla said. “The referee has to do his due diligence and make the right call, which he did. It was pretty obvious that the Hollister player brought his hands up. It looked like he was going to protect his face, but still the motion of putting his hands up to block the ball (should lead to a penalty kick).”
Gilroy finished a disappointing 6-6-2 in the Pacific Coast League’s Mission Division last year, due in part to a slew of injuries. The Mustangs are confident they’ll improve upon their third-place division finish from a season ago, as they return a solid core of starters including Elias Chavez Hernandez, Edward Aparicio and Pedro Hernandez. Chavez Hernandez, a senior left wingback, is critical for the Mustangs because they prefer to play from the back out of their 4-3-3 formation. Padilla said Chavez Hernandez is one of the leaders on the team and has solid ball-control skills. Aparicio, a senior midfielder, can turn the tide of the game with his ability to possess the ball and make sound decisions.
“He’s a kid that provides security on our field in terms of if we get him the ball, we know the ball is going to be secured and we can build from his possession,” Padilla said. “He’s shown the ability to do that over the last three years.”
Pedro Hernandez brings a lot of energy to the field, can juke other players and has a creative flair for the game. Padilla describes Hernandez as “one of those players who can change the game with the decisions he makes with the ball.”
In sophomore Daniel Jimenez, the Mustangs have a goalkeeper who has the potential to be a huge difference-maker. Jimenez has transformed from an inexperienced, raw talent last year to a player who continues to improve and make big plays. That was plenty evident in the San Benito game, as Jimenez repeatedly came off his line with a controlled aggression to thwart a couple of terrific San Benito scoring chances.
“Daniel didn’t have all the tools last year, but as a sophomore now he’s developing those tools,” Padilla said. “He’s providing some security back there for us.”
Indeed, Jimenez had to be spectacular in the first half when the Balers unleashed a torrent of shots on the Gilroy goal. In the 12th minute, Jimenez made a diving stop off a Luis Garcia one-timer. Garcia was unmarked inside the 18-yard box and had a great look at the goal only to be rebuffed by Jimenez. Aparicio, Chavez Hernandez and Hernandez all were impressed with Jimenez’s play against San Benito, noting his ability take control of any situation. The three returning starters will be key in Gilroy’s quest to return to the Central Coast Section playoffs, and they all took up their game a notch in the second half against the Balers.
“I thought in the second half we communicated more and played more as a team,” Aparicio said. “The goal this year is the same goal we have, and that is hopefully we’ll be league champs and qualify for CCS and make it as far as we can.”
Said Chavez Hernandez: “In the first half we were more waiting for them to do something and reacting to that instead of us playing our own game and making them play how we play. But in the second half they were reacting to how we were playing.”
Pedro Hernandez said the team got a little tired midway through the first half before putting in their minds they were going to play all out in the second half and not make excuses. After registering only one shot on goal in the first half, Gilroy got going in the final 40 minutes of action. Juan Moreno displayed his leg strength with a laser for a free kick from 20 yards away that barely sailed over the top crossbar.
In addition to the players already mentioned, the Gilroy roster includes senior Davi Prado, senior Bryan Hernandez, senior Carlos Andrade, senior Ciro Badillo, senior Brahel Morales, senior Eric Aguilar Luna, senior Jesus Castaneda, senior Henrii Reyes Heleria, junior Daniel Ochoa, junior Juan Moreno, junior Adrian Garcia, and sophomore Andres Garcia.