ALA Gilbert North boys soccer secures top seed after undefeated regular season

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The ALA Gilbert North boys soccer team huddles up at halftime during a 7-2 victory over Valley Christian on Feb. 1, 2022, at ALA Gilbert North.
The ALA Gilbert North boys soccer team huddles up at halftime during a 7-2 victory over Valley Christian on Feb. 1, 2022, at ALA Gilbert North.

Reigning 3A boys soccer state champions American Leadership Academy Gilbert North completed its undefeated regular season with a 7-2 victory over Valley Christian Tuesday.

On Senior Night, No. 1 Gilbert North’s seniors shined with Raynaldo Pacheco, Jackson Barney and Justin Provenzano, the top goal scorer in the state, all netting goals en route to an Eagles victory over a Valley Christian side that entered the game ranked eighth in the AIA’s 3A rankings.

“It’s just important to finish strong,” Gilbert North head coach Michael Gonzalez said. “Obviously, we want the results, but our goal has always been performance. If everyone does their job and we perform at a high level, the result will come.”

Gilbert North opened the scoring in the third minute after a through ball into the box found Barney who slotted a shot into the bottom left corner. The Eagles dominated possession throughout the half and were able to triple their lead with back-to-back goals in quick succession by Provenzano and Pacheco midway through the first half.

However, Valley Christian was able to keep things interesting.

The Trojans pulled one back in the final minutes of the first half to enter the break down 3-1 before cutting the deficit to one just over 10 minutes into the second half.

ALA Gilbert North forward Justin Provenzano (16) sends a long throw-in into the box during a 7-2 victory over Valley Christian on Feb. 1, 2022, at ALA Gilbert North.
ALA Gilbert North forward Justin Provenzano (16) sends a long throw-in into the box during a 7-2 victory over Valley Christian on Feb. 1, 2022, at ALA Gilbert North.

“The response was really good,” Valley Christian head coach Paul Barker said. “We went down early, then we went down by a few goals. The team responded well, then we were really back in it.”

Things seemed shaky for the Eagles, who lost their identity as the Trojans looked for an equalizer. Gilbert North assistant coach Manfred Kwarteng yelled instructions, pleading to his defense to stay disciplined.

To make matters worse, Gilbert North goalkeeper Roger Mayorga was forced off with an injury. Gonzalez opted to put defender Cristian Castro-Hernandez in goal as opposed to his regular backup goalkeeper because he wanted someone who could play with his feet to allow the team to build attacks through the back.

Despite this, Gilbert North was able to cushion its lead when Barney scored directly from a corner kick midway through the second half. The Eagles began to find their mojo again, pressing hard to win the ball back at will. Provenzano then put the game out of reach by scoring three goals in the final eight minutes to power the Eagles to a 7-2 win.

“Once those goals came, and they closed the score a little bit, we panicked,” Gonzalez said. “We kind of got away from who we are and what we do on the field. We’re grateful for having a player like Justin (Provenzano) who turned up and took the game on his own and turned it around for us, which helped us relax and be ourselves again.”

The result comes after a two-win week where Gilbert North outscored its opponents by a combined score of 46-1. Provenzano racked up six goals and four assists in an 18-0 win against Lincoln Prep before scoring a whopping 10 goals on top of three assists in the Eagles’ 28-1 win over San Tan Charter.

ALA Gilbert North forward Justin Provenzano (16) celebrates with assistant coach Manfred Kwarteng during a 7-2 victory over Valley Christian on Feb. 1, 2022, at ALA Gilbert North.
ALA Gilbert North forward Justin Provenzano (16) celebrates with assistant coach Manfred Kwarteng during a 7-2 victory over Valley Christian on Feb. 1, 2022, at ALA Gilbert North.

Gonzalez said that those kinds of blowouts are not beneficial for either team, and he was glad to be able to close out the regular season over a dangerous Valley Christian side.

“We needed that,” Gonzalez said. “We had a lighter week last week, and we have to keep our momentum going with this type of game. We need these games. We need the physicality of the game and the speed of play of it.”

Valley Christian ends its regular season with back-to-back losses to Arizona College Prep and Gilbert North, both of which automatically qualified for the 3A playoffs. With the results, the Trojans dropped to No. 11 in the final seedings and are scheduled to face No. 22 Scottsdale Christian in the conference play-in Thursday.

Despite the losses, Barker believes there are benefits to closing out the regular season against two top opponents.

“It’s great to be able to taste defeat and to know what it’s like to be in those situations facing adversity so you know how to overcome it,” Barker said. “I like being in this situation. I like that the boys have experienced these matches.”

After an undefeated regular season, Gilbert North secured the top seed in the conference and will host its first-round matchup against a team yet to be determined from the play-in games.

“It’s obviously important having the one seed,” Gonzalez said. “We love playing at home. It’s a nice big field, and we can play our way. We can stretch the opponents, we can dominate in possession, keep the ball and make things happen. We get a little extra juju when we play at home.”

Gonzalez believes the Eagles are much more balanced, mentally prepared and tactically aware than last season’s championship squad. Teams have to pick their poison against the Gilbert North attack as marking Provenzano heavily only opens things up for the talented array of forwards on the team.

“We all got to trust each other,” Provenzano said. “Without trust, the whole system and this brotherhood wouldn’t work together. We wouldn’t have been state champs last year if we didn’t trust each other. As captain, I want to make sure our team is capable of everything. They can do it together, push everyone outside of the box and make everyone believe in their own self.”

If the Eagles want to win back-to-back titles, they could end up facing fellow undefeated teams in No. 2 Thatcher or No. 3 Phoenix Country Day, who they defeated 3-2 in last year’s championship game, in the final.

For now, Gonzalez and the Eagles are only focused on their first-round game set for Tuesday.

“One game at a time,” Gonzalez said. “Stay motivated to take care of business one team at a time. Don’t look beyond because tomorrow is not there if you don’t take care of business today.”

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: ALA Gilbert North boys soccer completes undefeated regular season