It doesn’t matter who you are. Or how much talent you have.
For while soccer is beautiful, it is also cruel.
The better team doesn’t always win. The luck of the bounce favors none.
Tucson Salpointe Catholic boys soccer coach Wolfgang Weber knows this well. He has had some of the best teams Arizona has ever seen in his 31 years as coach.
“And you feel every year that you have a chance to win it,” he said of the ultimate goal that is the state title. “But it has only happened for me five times. The other 26 times, things happen.”
Salpointe Catholic, the defending Division II champion, enters the new season, which begins next week, as the favorite to repeat. With 18 returning players from last season’s 25-2-1 title team, Salpointe Catholic has what it takes to win back-to-back championships for the first time since the 1985-1986 seasons. But Weber isn’t penciling in any victory that hasn’t happened yet.
“We always have to be on this path of continuous improvement,” Weber said. “The moment we don’t do that then lies the trouble ahead.”
Salpointe still lost key players to graduation who will be tough to replace, including defender Chase Brennan (who Weber said was one of the best he’s ever coached). And senior midfielder Christian Garcia, a first-team All-State player in Division II last season, will likely be out until mid-to-late January because of a sports hernia.
So while Salpointe is the favorite, it is by no means perfect.
Among the teams waiting to pounce is Tucson Catalina Foothills.
In Division I, defending champion Chandler Hamilton is also pegged this preseason to repeat. Hamilton returns six starters, four of whom earned azcentral sports All-State honors, from last season’s 23-3 title team. And Nick Markette said his team has “good depth” and “a strong winning culture.”
But Hamilton will again be pushed by Phoenix Brophy Prep, who will be without reigning Player of the Year Riggs Lennon (now with the Real Salt Lake-Arizona residency academy in Casa Grande), but still has enough firepower to win. And a slew of talent-filled teams like Tolleson, Phoenix Carl Hayden, Phoenix Maryvale, Gilbert and San Luis.
Division III defending champion Phoenix Cortez isn’t the favorite this year after losing last season’s Small Schools Player of the Year, goalkeeper Jonathan Atencio, and other stars to graduation. But coach Jose Corona can never be counted out.
Scottsdale Coronado, last season’s state runner-up, is the new No.1. A young, dangerous team is now an experienced, dangerous team with nine returning starters.
“Our strength is our goalkeeper (Victor Perez) and the offense,” Coronado coach Mike Tsorin said.
Here comes the “but.”
“The defense needs to step up a bit,” Tsorin said. “And everyone needs to stay healthy.”
Players to watch
Daniel Adoo, So., D, Phoenix Cortez
Marco Aguilar, Jr., F, Phoenix North Canyon
Ricardo Alvarez, Sr., GK, Phoenix Maryvale
Erik Arellano, Sr., F, Glendale Cactus
Paul Astrain, Sr., D, Tempe McClintock
David Ather, Jr., MF, Tucson Palo Verde
Nolan Barth, Sr., D, Chandler Hamilton
Stefan Barzu, Jr., F, Gilbert Christian
Jamal Bechri, Sr., GK, Buckeye Verrado
Hector Berrueta, Sr., MF, Buckeye Verrado
Zach Blomberg, Sr., MF, Chandler Seton Catholic
Ricardo Ceja, Sr., D, Glendale
Cesar Cervantes, Sr., D, Scottsdale Coronado
Christian Chavira, Sr., D, Tucson Catalina
Clarence Clark, Sr., D, Phoenix Brophy Prep
Yabin Cruz, Sr., F, Phoenix South Mountain
Mark Dogbah, Sr., F, Phoenix Greenway
Preston Dolenar, Jr., D, Mesa Red Mountain
Brad Duty, So., MF, Glendale Cactus
Jack Ferguson, Sr., MF, Tucson Catalina Foothills
RIley Fitzgerald, Sr., F, Phoenix Northwest Christian
Jordan Fletcher, Sr., F, Chandler Hamilton
Jacob Fox, Sr., GK, Gilbert Campo Verde
Michael Gallardo, Sr., F, Glendale Ironwood
Christian Garcia, Sr., MF, Tucson Salpointe Catholic
Jesus Garcia, Sr., F, Scottsdale Coronado
Miguel Gonzalez, So., F, Scottsdale Coronado
Ryan Grotjohn, Sr., MF, Phoenix Brophy Prep
Jose Hernandez, So., MF, Phoenix Maryvale
Rodrigo Hernandez, Jr., MF, Glendale Apollo
Derly Herrera, Sr., MF, Queen Creek
Connor Holbert, Sr., D, Phoenix Greenway
T.J. Holt, Sr., F, Tucson Salpointe Catholic
Dennis Hull, Sr., F, Miami
Miguel Ibarra, Sr., F, Queen Creek
Zuberi Idy, Jr., F, Tucson Catalina
Omar Iniguez, Sr., F, Parker
Matthew Kaldawi, Sr., F, Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep
Samuel Kavathas, Sr., GK, Tucson Flowing Wells
Niku Khatami, Jr., GK, Tempe Prep
Josh King, Sr., GK, Tucson Canyon del Oro
Cole Lenderink, Jr., F, Scottsdale Christian
Oswaldo Lopez Ortiz, Jr., MF, Glendale Copper Canyon
Carlos Maldonado, Sr., MF, Wellton Antelope
Luis Manta, Sr., MF, Chandler Hamilton
Benjamin Martinez, Sr., MF, Gilbert Williams Field
Daniel Martinez, Sr., D, Goodyear Estrella Foothills
Danny McDermott, Sr., D, Tucson Catalina Foothills
Aidan McGill, Jr., MF, Anthem Boulder Creek
Jose Mendoza, Sr., D, Avondale La Joya
Daniel Moe, Sr., D, Chandler Basha
Leonardo Moreno, Sr., F, San Luis
Zaid Moreno, Sr., MF, Phoenix Cortez
Arnulfo Navarette, D, Sr., Independence
A.J. Novelli, Jr., MF, Flagstaff Coconino
Tyler Pavlet, Jr., GK, Goodyear Millennium
Lupe Paz, Sr., MF, Yuma Gila Ridge
Victor Perez, Sr., GK, Scottsdale Coronado
Zach Plichta, Sr., F, Chandler Seton Catholic
Alex Ramirez, Jr., F, Glendale Ironwood
Arturo Ramirez, Sr., F, Phoenix Thunderbird
Kevin Reyes, Sr., MF, Tempe
Luis Reynoso, Sr., F, Gilbert Williams Field
Cameron Rivera, Sr., GK, Tucson Catalina Foothills
Jose Rivera, Sr., D, Phoenix Carl Hayden
Mason Robertson, Sr., D/F, Phoenix Pinnacle
Taylor Rumsey, Sr., D, Chandler
Alberto Saavedra, Sr., MF, Avondale Agua Fria
Jeremiah Salinas, Jr., D, Avondale Agua Fria
Canyon Smith, Sr., D, Buckeye
Mario Soto, Jr., D, Tolleson
Carlos Suarez, Sr., MF, Surprise Shadow Ridge
Zach Swain, So., F, Scottsdale Christian
Roberto Valenzuela, Sr., F, Phoenix Cortez
Carlos Valle Paz, Jr., F, Avondale Westview
Arturo Vega, Sr., MF, Tucson Salpointe Catholic
Getamesay Weise, Jr., GK, Tempe Prep
Daniel Wican, Sr., D, Chandler Hamilton
Matt Winkler, Jr., GK, Mesa
Nate Ybarra, Sr., F, Desert Edge