It’s a concept Michael Sanchez took with him throughout the season as he and the Soledad High boys soccer team entered the 2013-14 season trying to add another championship banner.
It ended up being an unforgettable outing for the Aztecs, who finished the regular season undefeated and came within a few minutes of their first Central Coast Section finals appearance.
Sanchez was front and center in Soledad’s season and, in an overall Monterey County soccer season highlighted by defense, was a beast on offense.
The Soledad High senior was the leading scorer in Monterey County as his offense powered Soledad to its third consecutive Mission Trail Athletic League championship and sixth overall.
For being a near unstoppable force, Sanchez is The 2014 Salinas Californian Player of the Year.
A couple of weeks ago, Sanchez spent a few minutes reflecting on his amazing senior soccer season. He enjoyed playing with his friends, scoring a lot of goals and helping Soledad finish with an undefeated regular season for the first time in school history.
Sanchez was soon asked which of his 30 goals was his favorite.
“Actually, 31,” he said. “The All-Star game.”
Even in the grand exhibition showcase, the 2014 Salinas Californian All-Star Soccer Classic, Sanchez found a way to score.
It didn’t matter if he was double teamed or triple teamed, which came in almost every game. Sanchez used his speed and craftiness to get Soledad on the board.
Sanchez said he knew the season was going to be a special one when he scored in a nonleague game against Aptos in late November. He got a pass and scored without the ball touching the ground.
That 4-0 win over the eventual Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League champions put Soledad at 3-0, and the team kept rolling. The Aztecs went 11-0-1 in the MTAL and did not allow a goal in all of February.
As the wins mounted, Sanchez said he wasn’t worried about trying to stay undefeated or keep up his scoring binge.
“Everything was coming together the right way,” Sanchez said. “The undefeated streak was there, but we didn’t let it get to our heads.”
His 30 goals during the regular season was eight better than the next highest scorer in the county, which happened to be teammate Fabian Guzman.
And the 30th goal of the season virtually sealed the Aztecs’ MTAL championship.
It came in the regular season finale against Greenfield, he got the ball on a loft and headed it just past the arms of the Greenfield goalkeeper, who came within less than an inch of at least tapping it away.
And that’s all because of a concept he has in his mind.
“The first instinct is to go forward,” Sanchez said. “If I go forward, I know I can score. If I can’t, then I know there are other options, other teammates.”
Sanchez was a four-year starter, and he will leave Soledad High with more than 70 goals scored, three consecutive all-MTAL selections and three MTAL championships.
“Michael was an amazing player with bags of potential,” said Soledad High coach Reyes Mendoza. “I hope he does well at the next level.”
Mendoza said there was no single game where Sanchez stood out more than the others.
The coach remembered how versatile Sanchez was in all of the games he played this season, and he contributes that to Sanchez being more of a team player.
“He brought it to the table every game,” Mendoza said. “If he didn’t score, he assisted. If he didn’t do either, he was a pain to the other team. He created wall passes and opportunities for other players. I just can’t pick out one game because he was consistently good, and it’s very difficult to do that.”
Sanchez said he hopes to play soccer for one of the local junior colleges next season.
As long as he continues to go forward, he said he believes he can play at the next level.
“It’ll be a whole different intensity,” Sanchez said. “I’ll be ready.”
Rest of the team
The rest of the All-County Boys Soccer team featured a bevy of standouts who shined on offense and defense in helping their teams reach great heights.
Alisal High senior Andres Camacho was one of the standout goalkeepers in the county this season, denying opposing defenses in helping the Trojans win a second consecutive Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division championship.
Camacho was a part of eight shutouts this season and led a defensive stand that reached more than 500 consecutive minutes.
Camacho made more than 20 saves during the season, including two leaping blocks against both Watsonville and Alvarez late in the season.
Danny Pulido, another Alisal senior star, was considered by several coaches as one of the best ballhandlers in the county. He scored two goals this season but was well known for his defensive prowess.
Pulido was named to the all-MBL Gabilan Division team for a second consecutive year.
“Individually, we wanted Danny and Andy to grow as players, and we saw some of that growth in terms of maturity and leadership,” said Alisal coach Mark Cisneros.
Alisal forward Benito Chavez capped off his senior year by leading the Gabilan Division in scoring. The coaches in the division tabbed him as the Most Valuable Player. Not a bad outing for a rookie.
“I’m happy for Benito because this was his first year playing soccer and he ends up leading the (division) in scoring,” Cisneros said.
Chavez said his favorite moment this season was scoring against Mitty in a nonleague contest two days after Christmas.
Alvarez High had a couple of stellar players who shined on the field.
Senior forward Chris Marinez had prime goal-scoring opportunities and helped solidify Alvarez’s offensive attack throughout the season. He was named a first-team all-MBL Gabilan Division selection.
Ricardo Soza, an Alvarez freshman forward, tallied 10 goals for Alvarez and also was named an all-leaguer in the MBL Gabilan Division. Soza had three multiple-goal games and put in a tally against Alisal.
Soza said his goal against Alisal was his favorite highlight of the season.
“Ricardo has that natural ability, and for him to show it as a freshman, it speaks loudly of what he can do,” said Alvarez coach Edgar Luquin.
Monterey High’s amazing 2013-14 season was the school’s best ever, as it finished with a school-record 15 wins and an appearance in the CCS tournament for the first time in almost two decades.
While its defense was amazing, it had two star forwards that provided the majority of the Toreadores’ goals.
Senior forward Danny Reyes put in 15 goals, one short of the team lead. He received all-league honors in the MBL Pacific Division and was named an All-Star.
Hyunsik Lee, Monterey’s other powerful senior scorer, had 16 goals this season, including several breakaways. He scored in 11 games and had one hat trick this season.
The midfielder’s consistent scoring led the coaches of the MBL Pacific Division to name him the Most Valuable Player of the division.
Lee said his goal against Seaside, the game winner of a 1-0 contest on Feb. 13, was his favorite because it kept the Toreadores’ championship and CCS tournament hopes alive.
Seaside junior forward Sergio Javier was the team’s leading scorer and a master of free kicks. Whenever the Spartans were given a chance to do damage on a free kick, Javier was given the duties and struck gold on occasion.
Javier said his favorite moment of the season was on two free kicks at Rabobank Stadium in a matchup against Palma. He scored twice, the second being the eventual game-winner.
Javier helped the Spartans finish with a winning league and overall record for the first time since the 2011-12 season. He was also named an all-MBL Pacific Division player.
North Salinas’ center-mid Isaias Rivera patrolled the timeline and helped the Vikings finish 6-5-1 in the MBL Pacific Division.
It was the first time the Vikings finished with a winning record in league play in eight years.
Rivera said his favorite moment of the season was scoring a goal in a 2-1 win over Seaside that extended North Salinas’ winning streak to a third consecutive game.
Palma High senior Zack Werner was a force up front, leading the team in goals and assists as the Chieftains achieved a seven-win mark for a second straight season.
Werner finished with 10 goals and four assists.
“He’s a positive leader, the way he brings the boys together after every game,” said Palma coach Scott Corner. “He was an exceptional leader, and you don’t get something like that every year. He loves playing soccer and managed to stay healthy..”
Soledad’s Sergio Gasca, a four-year standout in south county, was a big part of the Aztecs’ defense.
The senior midfielder was named the MTAL Most Valuable Player for his standout play.
“We won’t have another kid like Sergio here,” Mendoza said. “He has a lot of talent and potential, strong and fast. He has the skills to play in college.”
Greenfield senior Jesus Resendiz had some growing pains but became a star on the Bruins’ team that ended up challenging Soledad for the MTAL crown this season.
Resendiz, a midfielder, received praise for helping the Bruins finish 12-2 in the MTAL.
“He learned his team really needed him, and he did what he had to do for the team,” said Greenfield coach Jesus Alvarez.
Gonzales sophomore Luis Hernandez was also an all-MTAL honoree and named the co-Midfielder of the Year. The midfielder led the team in goals with eight and powered the team into the CCS tournament, where it nearly pulled off a first-round upset.
It was a bounce-back season for Hernandez, who was out for most of the 2012-13 campaign after being injured. And then he had a scare before the season as coaches thought he might have pulled a groin, but he ended up OK.
“Luis was our key player in the middle,” said Gonzales coach Juan Flores. “He really moved the ball around.”
Hernandez said his favorite games this season were against Soledad because of how much the Aztecs challenged Hernandez and the rest of the Spartans.
Carmel senior Max Yeater shined as one of the team’s top forwards. He led the Padres in goals and was named the MTAL Forward of the Year.
Soledad junior forward Fabian Guzman was right there with Sanchez as Soledad’s 1-2 punch up near the goal.
Guzman had an impactful season as well, scoring 22 goals while tallying eight assists.
“Fabian brings a lot to the table,” Mendoza said. “Overall, he’s very fast and very energetic. He can hammer the ball. He’s like Michael where once he gets the ball in a certain spot, he hits a dead-on shot.”
Guzman said his favorite moment of the season was scoring two goals in the team’s CCS quarterfinal win against Sacred Heart Prep.
Coach of the Year
Monterey High’s Alex Jennings, perhaps the youngest coach in all of Monterey County, brought his style of soccer to Monterey High, and the squad responded.
For leading Monterey to a record season, Jennings is the Coach of the Year.
The Toreadores had been moving up in record slowly the past couple of seasons and finally got over the hump this season, going 15-4-2 overall and 9-1-2 in the MBL Pacific Division.
Monterey hung tough with all of its opponents, as it played a schedule that included Soledad, CCS champion Watsonville and CCS finalist Burlingame. It also split its season series with Hollister, which went on to win the Pacific Division title.
In a year full of defensive efforts, Monterey did its part, as 13 of its 15 wins were shutouts. Monterey had a string of at least two shutouts in a row five times.
The Toreadores finished second in the division although it suffered the fewest losses. And they capped off the season with not only their first CCS tournament appearance in 19 years, but also a win.