Mario Aguilar still has his letterman jacket from his playing days at Indio High School. He wears it on game days to remind the team he now coaches about the program’s rich soccer history.
Twelve years after his four-year playing career at Indio ended, Aguilar was hired last year to lead the boys’ soccer program, replacing his former coach, Alberto Moscoso. Aguilar’s big-picture goal was to eventually lead the Rajahs to a California Interscholastic Federation title.
But before that, the plan was to compete for a the Desert Valley League crown. To do that, Indio would have to dethrone the reigning king of the DVL, the La Quinta Blackhawks.
Indio took the first step Thursday, defeating La Quinta, 2-1, in front of a raucous crowd at Ed White field at Indio High.
“It’s a big accomplishment just beating them because they are CIF champions and they’re undefeated (in league),” Aguilar said. “Who doesn’t want to beat an undefeated team? Indio wants to, that’s for sure.”
In arguably the most physically intense game of the year so far in the Coachella Valley, Indio and La Quinta engaged in a battle for first place in the DVL standings.
It was a classic east valley game; the kind that sometimes features Coachella and Desert Mirage, and includes pushing, shoving, and a battle that is often for more than simply bragging rights.
In all, seven cards were issued Thursday, including two red cards in the first half. Each team played with 10 players on the field for the entire second half.
Before the cards were issued, Indio caught the Blackhawks inattentive just three minutes into the game. Sophomore forward Ivan Jose drilled the ball past La Quinta goalkeeper Sebastian Ascencio from the middle of the field, just outside the box.
“We’ve been trying to get these guys to learn that they’ve got to get ready to play at the start a little better,” La Quinta head coach Gary Nadler said. “Indio, at the beginning, definitely wanted the ball more than we wanted it.”
Though La Quinta had its share of scoring opportunities, Indio held possession and initiated the offense for much of the first half as the cards piled up. The amount of times the whistle blew prevented either team from gaining any real momentum. La Quinta was again without its leading scorer, Adam Lopez, for the third game.
But early in the second half, Blackhawks’ midfielder Andrassy Teran managed to find the back of the net off a free kick header. Suddenly, La Quinta was back in it.
The 1-1 tie ended just seven minutes later, when Jose again put Indio ahead when he fired a shot off a rebound into the tight space that separated Ascencio’s outstretched hand and the left goal post.
The crowd erupted.
“We just wanted to try our best,” Jose said, “I knew we could beat them if we just tried our best.”
Indio’s win moved the Rajahs (11-6-11, 7-1 DVL) into sole possession of first place in the league standings, just a half-game ahead of the Blackhawks (10-5-3, 6-1). The two teams will see each other again on Monday at La Quinta.
“Last year it was around this time that we lost one and learned a little something from it,” Nadler said, referring to a 3-1 loss to Palm Desert before reeling off 11 consecutive wins en route to the CIF title. “Hopefully we take something from this one. We need games like this.”
To La Quinta, it’s merely one game. If the Blackhawks beat the Rajahs next week at home, they’ll again reclaim the lead in the standings.
To Indio, it’s much more than one game. The Rajahs won seven games last year, and finished in sixth place in the DVL. The year before that, it was eight games and another sixth place finish.
Thursday’s win was the proof Aguilar needed to show his squad that things are indeed changing at Indio.
“It’s a big shoes to fill, to take over for Moscoso,” Aguilar said, “but I am hoping to help my guys to one day win a CIF championship. We want to be playing on that level.”