WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville High boys’ soccer team has been a powerhouse program for the past 50 years, winning numerous league and Central Coast Section titles along the way.
This season will be no different as the Wildcatz return to the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Gabilan Division with a talented squad loaded with seniors.
Mateo Arias has emerged as Watsonville’s top scoring threat but he was held scoreless in a 3-2 non-league loss against Mater Dei of Santa Ana on Tuesday night. The forward has a team-high three goals and will look to add more before league play begins in two weeks.
Saul Valencia scored his first goal of the season on Tuesday, which tied the game at 2-all. Jorge Gutierrez provided the assist for the goal in the 69th minute.
“Our coach reminds us every day, before the game, every practice, that every game is going to be like this,” Valencia said. “Every game is going to be basically a final, we’re going to have to battle like this throughout our games.”
The Monarchs’ Gonzalo Diaz headed in a disputed, go-ahead goal in the 75th minute. Valencia said he was pushed twice into a teammate as players fought for position on a throw-in.
At that point, a Wildcatz player was shoved into goalie Jorge Magdaleno, who was knocked away from being able to make a play on the shot.
“With the equalizer, we had the momentum,” Valencia said. “We felt like we could’ve scored another two, three.”
Then the game was ended prematurely by officials seconds after Diaz’s go-ahead score. A heated exchange between a coach and official brought an abrupt end to the thriller.
Valencia received a yellow card after making a claim that he was shoved by an opposing player. He said that the referee used foul language to address the situation and declined to mention what was said.
But, Valencia repeated the referee’s message to Wildcatz assistant Valentin Berrelleza, who walked toward the head official and yelled at him. He was given a red card from the referee and banished from the field as he was restrained by players and coaches.
Apart from what happened in the final minutes, Valencia said they look forward to tough matches against teams such as Mater Dei.
“These are the types of games that we, as competitors, love to play,” he said.
The Wildcatz are coming off an abbreviated 2021 spring season where they competed in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League. They finished 9-3-0 and were eliminated in the CCS Division I semifinals by Lincoln High, which beat Watsonville in the Homestead Christmas Cup’s gold division championship on Dec. 18.
Valencia said they will shake off the two early-season losses and he believes they can move forward because this year’s group is motivated.
“The whole squad is ready to level up and ready to be united as Watsonville can be,” he said.
Other players to watch for include center backs David Ibarra and Isaac Vargas, along with defensive midfielder Lombardo Flores.
That trio should help the Wildcatz limit opponents from creating scoring chances.
“I like how we’re all together,” Flores said. “There’s no separate groups within the team. We all just play as a team.”
Watsonville also has two goalkeepers in senior Edgar Angel and Magdaleno, who have a combined four shutouts this season.
The Wildcatz (3-3-2) have two preseason games remaining. They play at San Benito High (2-2-3) on Tuesday and finish at home against cross-town rival Pajaro Valley High (1-4-1) on Jan. 7 at 6:45pm.
The Grizzlies are off to a rough start after they went unbeaten in the SCCAL during the abbreviated 2021 spring season.
Pajaro Valley returns to the PCAL’s Mission Division this season, but they are doing so without high-scoring forwards Alan Bedolla and Kevin Rincon, who graduated last year.
Instead, they will have to rely on seniors Elias Gonzalez, Luis Velasquez and Juan Mora to fill in some of the offensive production. Sophomore Isaac Rojas is an up-and-coming midfielder for a young squad that is looking to contend in the Mission Division.
Pajaro Valley has two preseason games remaining before its league opener at home against Monterey High on Jan. 10 at 3:15pm.
Monte Vista Christian, which will compete in the PCAL’s Cypress Division, features a pair of high-scoring senior forwards in Cristian Linares and Mark Spohn.
The Mustangs also have a solid defensive line comprised of seniors Aidan Keegan and Connor Lopes and junior Luke Hollingsworth.
M.V.C. is currently on a three-game winning streak and is off to a 3-0-2 start after finishing winless in SCCAL play last spring.
North Monterey County High will also compete in the Cypress Division and is off to a 1-3-1 start after winning just one game in the spring.
St. Francis High features one of the league’s top scorers in forward Garrett Lee and the Sharks are ready to compete in the PCAL’s Arroyo Division this season.
Last season, Lee, this year a senior, had 15 goals. Senior defender Austin Kholstadt is a nice complement in the backfield and is instrumental in breaking up scoring opportunities from the opposition.
The Sharks play Ceiba College Prep (1-2-0) in the teams’ Arroyo Division opener at Depot Park in Santa Cruz on Jan. 11 at 3:30pm.