Players were just happy to still be roaming the field last February. Adrian Barragan knew better. He had nurtured a grand tradition over the years. Soccer teams weren’t supposed to barely sneak into the playoffs at Coachella Valley High School.
Barragan’s teams stepped onto the field 141 times from 2006-2012. Only 23 times they walked off the field having been defeated.
The Arabs surged out of the gates to begin the 2012-13 season, starting with a 4-2-1 record. But they lost three in a row after that, and ultimately tumbled down the standings. The fifth-place team in the Desert Valley League, Coachella Valley needed a miracle just to get into the postseason.
CV was one-and-done once it got there, losing 3-2 to Segerstorm of Santa Ana. The Arabs ended the season with a modest 7-8-4 record.
Fast forward a year later, and Coachella Valley is back in a familiar place: atop the Desert Valley League and among the favorites to earn another CIF title.
The Arabs shared the league title with La Quinta after a 2-0 win over Indio Thursday, yet is expected to be the top seed from the DVL when the postseason pairings are released Monday.
A staple of Barragan’s success is the discipline his teams have. His philosophy is to get his players to take accountability and work hard in the classroom; characteristics he believes will then translate onto the field.
Last year, though, Barragan admits he eased up on his expectations just a little bit. He said he didn’t hold his players to as high of a standard as he’s always had for conditioning, and it showed on the field.
Once last season ended, Barragan said he knew this year’s team had a chance to be very good, so he made them work to get every ounce of energy and effort out of the players.
“It’s the same expectation for every team every year,” senior defender Jerry Avalos said. “It all depends how each team accepts it. Our coaches made their expectations early, and we accepted it.”
Barragan tweaked the lineup a bit, too. He moved players around the field, utilizing their individual strengths to maximize the potential of the entire team. He moved one of his defenders on the flanks to a forward spot, a midfielder into a defensive position, and a center midfielder to the flanks all in an effort to further utilize their unique skills.
Some players initially scoffed. Barragan didn’t care. They’d player in their new role and love it or not play at all.
The results are difficult to contend with. The Arabs (13-5-2, 8-3-1 DVL) enter the postseason having gone 6-1-1 over their last eight games. In the process, they’ve outscored opponents 19-3.
Barragan said this team may be more well-rounded than any team he’s coached in recent years. He said they collectively mix a high field IQ with raw ability and an workmanlike mentality.
“These kids may not be the most talented team we’ve ever had,” Barragan said, “but when I ask them to give me something, they don’t let me down.”
Not that last year’s team didn’t have it’s successes — Barragan lost 10 seniors and five key starters from that squad — but he said players seem to be more patient and composed this time around. He also said they’re playing with more energy and intensity and the overall team chemistry is better this year, too.
“Thankfully, this year we have that chemistry to communicate better and work hard with each other,” leading scorer Samuel Retano said. “We know what we have to do to be successful. We’re all on the same page.”
Still, none of what CV did during the regular season will matter if the Arabs cannot continue that success into the playoffs. And Barragan has been in his players’ ears about that.
But he does like his team’s chances if it can carry over some of the current momentum it has generated during its run through the second half of the DVL schedule.
That gives Barragan high hopes.
It’s a familiar feeling he hasn’t had in a while. One that began to emerge after his team defeated Palm Desert 5-0 at home on Feb. 4. Barragan stood in the middle of the field chatting with his assistants long after his players had shuffled to the locker room.
Then he walked to the sidelines and shared what was on his mind.
“We’re starting to play really well,” he said. “If we can keep this up, we’re going to end this season a lot better than we did last year.”