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September 23, 2023

Gilroy High boys soccer a work in progress, but optimistic it will coalesce

Longtime Gilroy High boys soccer coach Armando Padilla acknowledges the team will be a work in progress, especially when it comes to scoring goals. 

The Mustangs (1-4-2) were shut out in four of their first seven matches and scored just five times in that stretch, with three coming against a 1-5 Yerba Buena side. 

“We have quality all the way around, but we don’t have that one player who can put the ball in the back of the net like Jefferson [Cruz] did for us last year,” Padilla said. “It’s going to take a while so we’re building that chemistry on the field, getting a better understanding of what I want from them in the attacking third of the field and it’s going to come over time. Again, it’s early and we don’t have that striker, so it’s going to take a while but we’re headed in the right direction.”

Israel Rodriguez played up top against King City, and a handful of other players have rotated in there including Kai Gemar and Lawrence Vivanco. 

“From our strikers, we’re looking for a little more power, pace, and being able to hold the ball up and distribute from that position,” Padilla said. “All three kids bring a little something different, which is nice.”

Padilla said the team has been fortunate to have a steady presence at goalkeeper with junior Kevin Davidson. 

“Part of the reason why we’ve been able to get draws or even shutouts is because of him,” Padilla said. “He keeps our team in games. He’s not the biggest or strongest player, but he has the biggest heart, the biggest will, the biggest smile on the team. He’s been a stalwart back there for us.”

Padilla said the backline is also a work in progress, but senior Octavio Herrera has done a nice job of solidifying the left fullback position. 

“He’s come on strong for us in the last five, six games,” Padilla said. 

Padilla also was encouraged by the play of senior Diego Rivera, who had a solid game in a scoreless draw with King City on Dec. 15. Likewise, senior Jacob Salinas has been strong at right fullback.

“Diego had a great game versus King City and has matured physically and mentally,” Padilla said. “I think he has the potential to be one of our anchors in the back this year.”

Gilroy has depth in the midfield, one of the reasons why the team is playing a 4-5-1 formation. The midfield—featuring the freshman trio of Guillermo Valdez, Nova Padilla and Ian Honeycutt; sophomores Darren Hernandez and Joshua Guzman; juniors Hector Aparicio and Gemar; and senior Yandy Cruz—are part of a rotation that continues to take shape. 

“We have yet to find the correct puzzle pieces, but we definitely have the pieces,” Padilla said. 

At one point during the King City game, the Mustangs had Honeycutt, Valdez and Nova Padilla—the coach’s son—on the field at the same time. 

“It was weird watching a varsity game with three freshmen in the midfield,” Armando Padilla said. “All the coaches were looking at each other with big smiles on our faces thinking like, ‘Man, this is the potential we have for the next four years.’ They did really well with each other. It’s not about grade level, it’s about soccer IQ, being comfortable with the ball, being able to navigate in space and being able to break free from pressure. And those kids did really well [against King City]. In two to three years, we’re going to be loaded.”

Guzman, a right winger, is known for his fitness level, no surprise considering he had a top-20 finish in the CIF State Cross Country Championships in late November. 

“Joshua is out there giving us a different dimension,” Padilla said. “He has an engine that never stops. He’s great academically, just a great overall kid, and it’s neat to have him on the team.”

Caleb Sandoval was out with injury for the King City match, but he’s capable of scoring as is Noe Cardenas. Nova has made an immediate impact and has been competing for a high level club team for several years, contributing to his precocious play. 

GHS has been plagued early with a combination of injuries and players ineligible due to grades. Padilla expects reinforcements to arrive once the new grading period starts in early January and as players get healthy. 

One such player is senior defender Leonardo Panuco, who is a potential difference-maker. The senior is working his way back from a hamstring injury and is valuable on the backline as he can play center and left fullback. 

“Leo would give us an extra player we can plug in,” Padilla said. “He’s mature, physical, has speed and all the traits we need from a defensive player.”

Padilla hopes the team coalesces, especially once it gets at full strength. GHS has time to put it all together as BVAL Santa Teresa East Division play doesn’t start until Jan. 11.

Nova Padilla has already made an impact and is one of five freshmen on the team. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Armando Padilla has been coaching in the GHS soccer program for 23 years. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Emanuel Lee
Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.

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