The young soccer program made big leaps last season and will try to stay the course this year with a new head coach.
By Alan Der OHANNESSIAN
The Falcons’ soccer team is looking to the coming season with mixed emotions, trying to erase the memories of their 3-1 loss to EL Rancho in the quarterfinal of regional championships last year, while feeling safe in the stability of the coaching staff despite personnel change.
“They’re focused, even in practice,” said Grant Clark, the new head coach this season after being promoted from last year’s position as assistant.
CV is coming off a 6-0 win over Culver City on Dec. 13 and currently sits at 4-0-4. The team doesn’t play again until Pacific League play starts on Jan. 3 against Glendale.
Recent tournament performances at West Side and Irvine give reason to stay hopeful.
The Falcons didn’t lose a single match in both tournaments, winning four of their seven matches and tying three times. Their notable win was against Newport during the Irvine Tournament.
“We have a strong team,” said Clark. “[Offensively] the firepower that we have through the midfield and up top lets them beat people with their skill.”
The Alex Berger and Pavle Atanackovic duo is a perfect example. Berger, the leading facilitator with 14 assists last season, got most of them by lobbing to Atanackovic for headers as he led the team with 32 goals.
Defensively, Clark feels the players are there for each other.
During the Chaminade match in early December, Nick Ruiz got out at the wrong time to intercept a lob with his fists leaving the net empty. But Matt Schmutzer, one of several defenders, intercepted a shot into the net, preventing a certain goal and resulting in a shutout for the Falcons.
However, Clark did have some concern on the offensive side.
“We get too focused on Pavle, trying to force it instead of moving the ball around,” he said, exemplified in the St. Francis match when Atanackovic was double-teamed, leaving the team in a predicament.
Overall, though, Clark believes the team is a work in progress, capable of compensating for its weaknesses.
“We have some ironing out as far as formation, but our talent and speed make up for our mistakes,” he said.
Formation problems shouldn’t be an issue as being flexible is the core of their philosophy, similar to that of former coach Kiel McClung.
“Get out of your comfort zone because it benefits the situation at hand,” advised Clark. For example, “If you switch at a 4-5-1 formation, we’ll better control the ball in the midfield,” said Clark. “It’s always an adjustment.”
It’s for this reason the team feels at ease with the new coach.
“I wanted him to be the coach, no one else,” said Atanackovic.
Talented players from last year’s JV squad are fitting in nicely as well, filling the voids left by Vahe Nalbandian at midfield and Chris Fierro on defense.
“The versatility they have, [guys like] Rani Dimaski, Amir Hajimirsadeghi from JV,” said Clark. “They do a great job of filling the positions in midfield, defense … their understanding of soccer has brought a lot to the team.”
Credit was also given to the captains, including senior Salar Hajimirsadeghi, who are willing to mentor the younger ones, thus making the transition even smoother.
“Salar makes sure everybody’s doing what they’re supposed be doing,” said Clark, who says he tells the players to ask if they’re having difficulty with anything. Also, unlike other players Hajimirsadeghi leads by example.
“He’s especially good at it and that’s a big asset to our team,” said Clark.
Last season may have been disheartening, but Clark wants the loss to make the team hungrier. “We want them to have a goal and focus,” he said.
Though a young team – CV has only been playing Pacific League soccer for a couple of years – with the strong leadership of Clark, accompanied by fixating on their goal, the Falcons may be able to dethrone El Rancho this year.