When Lake Balboa Birmingham held soccer tryouts this year, more than 150 students showed up. You would have thought free Nike shoes were going to be given out.
“It’s very hectic and sometimes you miss a few,” coach EB Madha said. “We know what we are looking for.”
The only two students to make the varsity were freshmen Adrian Diaz and Steven Ramos. Twelve others made junior varsity. That’s says something about the soccer talent walking around the campus of Birmingham, the defending City Section champion that lost just one game last season in overtime to Manhattan Beach Mira Costa for the Southern California Regional championship.
OMG. Another marvelous assist by David Diaz to Enrique Pineda. Birmingham takes 3–1 lead over Clovis. pic.twitter.com/Ly0u0tO07O
— eric sondheimer (@latsondheimer) June 3, 2021
“This team could be as good as last year’s team,” Madha said.
Leading scorer Enrique Pineda (23 goals) is back. So is David Diaz, the Patriots’ best player known for his precision passes and ability to create scoring opportunities when teams decide to focus on stopping him. Also back is junior Cristian Moran, who showed impressive scoring ability.
As good as the Patriots were last season, Mira Costa exposed a weakness that Madha intends to correct. The Patriots struggled handling balls hit in the air.
“We’re going to spend our time this year on headings,” Madha said. “They scored three times on us on three headers. We’re going to work on defending headers and being better in the air. When you get into the regional, the teams tend to play direct, which means the ball goes into the air a lot.”
Southern California soccer will feature many of the same top teams as last season. Anaheim Servite could be No. 1 because of its experience. Max Thomas, one of the fastest athletes in the state, is ready to use his speed to create havoc. Three-time All-Trinity League selection Eddie Villeda is back and has signed with UC Santa Barbara.
“We got a good group. It’s going to be fun,” coach Eddie Soto said.
L.A. Cathedral and Loyola, perennial powers, will be title contenders and meet Thursday at Loyola in what has been dubbed the “Downtown L.A. World Cup.”
Alejandro Sanchez has been a three-year varsity member for Loyola and super sophomore Marco Bottene started the final 10 games as a freshman. For Cathedral, key players back from a 15-1 team include forwards Angel Rico and Angel Guerra, and goalkeeper Michael Hernandez.
Woodland Hills El Camino Real will continue to offer a strong challenge to Birmingham in the City Section, along with Bell.
For those wanting to win a Division 1 title in girls’ soccer, it’s all going to come down to the availability of the Thompson sisters, Alyssa and Gisele. The Studio City Harvard-Westlake standouts who are committed to Stanford helped the Wolverines go 19-0 last season, but their first priority this season will be preparing to play for USA national youth teams this summer.
Both are in World Cup cycles, Alyssa with the U-20 Women's World Cup team and Gisele with the U-17 team. Alyssa is going to Costa Rica in August and Gisele could be in India in October.
They are practicing with Harvard-Westlake but their schedule and availability for games remain uncertain.
“Their regular season availability is doubtful at best,” coach Richard Simms said. “Playoff availability is possible.”
Simms still believes the Wolverines are Division 1 title contenders without the Thompsons. Cross-country standout Daniela Quintero is relentless and freshman Victoria Pugh is a star in the making. A big early season test will be Dec. 9 against Santa Ana Mater Dei.
In the City Section, El Camino Real returns the West Valley League player of the year in Ava Tibor, who scored 11 goals in a COVID-19 shortened freshman year.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.