By David O’CONNOR
With less than three weeks until the uncompromising Pacific League season gets underway, the Crescenta Valley Falcons high school boys’ varsity soccer team is under no illusions that they will be up against high-caliber opposition and are quietly confident their pre-season form will prepare them for success in the business part of their season.
Compiling a 42-5-13 record in four seasons as head coach, Grant Clark feels his players’ health and the team’s continued progression will hold them in good stead when conference play kicks off.
“I think a lot of it is being healthy, making sure when league gets here that everyone is healthy and ready to go and that we’re playing maybe not our best, because we’d like that to be at the end of the season, but that we’re clicking and we’re starting to work things out,” Clark said.
Clark knows his team will be tested in the upcoming conference games, but is reassured by the times his charges have prevailed in trying circumstances.
“League is going to be tough, it’s not an easy league to play in. Glendale is going to be tough, Pasadena and Burroughs are always tough and you can never underestimate Muir or Hoover. You never know what they’re going to come out with,” Clark said.
“It will be good tests for us, but the guys have shown that they can be put in tough situations and come out successful,” Clark added.
The Falcons hold a 3-2 record after winning their first three non-league games in impressive fashion against Taft (3-1), Saugus (3-2) and Channel Islands (2-1), but recently have had back-to-back losses against Sylmar (1-1) and Rio Mesa (4-0).
Although Clark is pleased with his team’s pre-season performances against some challenging opposition, these games have revealed some weaknesses that need to be addressed. He said he feels the purpose of these non-league games is to allow his players to learn and grow.
“I think the big thing we need to work on is just communication between who’s pressuring the ball and how we cover the space that is left open when somebody steps to the ball,” Clark said.
Clark has been impressed with the team chemistry and maturity due to their thick-skinned nature in resolving any issues that come up, which has brought the team closer while allowing them to have fun in the process.
The Falcons have been diligent with their off-field strength and conditioning program with their focus on upcoming tough games that could be decided in the dying minutes by who is the fittest and strongest.
There are a few injured players who have turned their attention to stretching, icing and recuperative methods to give themselves the best chance to suit up for the league opener.
According to 2015 double-goal coach awards nominee Clark, center mid-fielder Justin Wright and mid-fielder Joshua Moran have produced standout attacking displays during pre-season and will be central figures in varsity’s league campaign. But other players need to step up to provide support.
Moran has been instrumental in setting up the Falcons’ attack with pinpoint passes, selective runs and calculating field vision that has yielded him one goal and two assists.
Wright is the leading goal-scorer with five strikes and has scored over half the Falcons’ goals due to his penetrative runs and exceptional finishing abilities.
“If they continue to do what they do and we can get some other people to help step up and carry that workload a little bit more, especially the scoring, we’ll be just fine and ready for league when it gets here,” Clark said.
Moran held special praise for mid-fielder and CIF winning football player Kevin Ginosian and Wright for their profound leadership influence, which has enhanced their detailed preparations for the start of conference play.
“They hold our team together by helping everyone out with constructive criticism, they have a positive mentality and everybody can go to them and ask them what to do in certain situations,” Moran said. “More or less I think we are ready and everybody is excited to play in the league games.
“Our main priority has been high-intensity and we’ve been focusing a lot on keeping our speed of play up and just touching the ball and playing as a team.”
Wright not only wants to make a mark on the scoreboard when he has possession of the ball, but he feels it’s his responsibility to mentor his teammates with their strategy on the field and also to inspire them to greater things.
“My role is to be that leader for everyone and I feel like I’m in charge of getting the team going, keeping the offense flowing and being the key player for the rest of the team,” Wright said. “But at the same time, help others be the best that they can be and be that central player for everyone.”
Varsity will compete in the Hart soccer showcase from Dec. 26 to Dec. 30 in Newbury Park, which will provide them with an opportunity to fine-tune their preparations for the league opener against John Muir HS in Pasadena on Jan. 7.