To say the Gilroy High boys soccer team has struggled so far this season would be a vast understatement. But even though the Mustangs went 2-5-1 through their first eight games, they still have a chance to turn things around, especially when Pacific Coast League Mission Division play starts on Jan. 10.
If there is any coach who can guide a quick reversal, it’s longtime coach Armando Padilla, who is in his 21st year with the Gilroy soccer program—the 17th season as the varsity coach.
“Luckily, the kids have good spirits and they know sometimes there will be highs and sometimes there will be lows, but they have to keep their heads down and keep working,” Padilla said. “It has been a rough, tough start. We had a couple of ejections and a couple of red cards (in the first two games), and we need to do a better job of keeping our heads level.”
Through Dec. 20, Padilla had yet to run a practice with everyone present, one of the big reasons why Gilroy is off to a slow start.
“We have yet to have a complete team at practice, so finding consistency will be the most important thing for us,” he said. “That’s the only way we’re going to be able to build some sort of rhythm and chemistry on the field.”
Padilla is hopeful the players can mature and coalesce as the season progresses. The veteran coach said the team does have some talented players, led by Daniel Jimenez. The senior goalkeeper will be counted upon to be mentally tough, make the textbook saves and constructively guide the team from the back.
“He’s a leader in the back and the reason why some of our games are even close,” Padilla said. “We’re going to be looking to him to keep us in games.”
Jimenez along with the backline have been the team’s most reliable unit, Padilla said. Seniors Saul Hernandez and Chris Martinez along with juniors Dylan Johnson and Diego Rivera have been solid defenders.
“They’ve been pretty consistent and if anything they’re being tenacious and making it difficult for opponents,” Padilla said. “They just need to keep grinding and keep that consistency going.”
Padilla said senior midfielder Alexis Sierra has the potential to be a special player.
“He’s one of those kids who doesn’t know the talent he has,” Padilla said. “I just hope he doesn’t realize it too late. He’s so dynamic and so explosive but has yet to learn how to slow the game down and simplify things on the field. It’s kind of like a video game where kids get crazy and start pressing buttons.
“They want to do all these fancy things on the field and be creative when sometimes all you have to do is beat the defender and make the pass to the next guy. You don’t need to be creative all the time, so we’re looking for him to keep it more simple and get the other guys involved. Once he does that, you’ll see our offense come alive because he has that type of ability.”
Senior Jefferson Cruz is the striker in the team’s 4-3-2-1 formation and also excels as a winger. Padilla plans to get Cruz isolated in one-on-one situations because of Cruz’s ability to beat his defender.
“He’s got power, but he also has technical skill to beat players,” Padilla said. “He’s powerful and he’s got a little speed to go with that power. We’re looking to free him up because he’s kind of our target man up top.”
Even though the GHS roster is filled with upperclassmen, the team is young in soccer experience, Padilla said. Only two of the nine seniors have varsity experience which means the other seven are in their first season of varsity action.
“So the team is relatively old in terms of grade level, but very young in terms of experience,” Padilla said. “Hence the 2-5-1 record. For us it’s going to be a learning curve, but we’ll keep focusing and improving upon the basics until we’re ready to pick up the pace.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.