ONTARIO — While the thunderstorm waited until the night, sparks were flying on thursday afternoon at the Alameda Fields as Ontario and Weiser’s boys soccer teams battled to a 1-1 draw to open the fall season.
While stressed about the game, both coaches agreed that Thursday’s game was an exciting way for both sides to start the season.
The Wolverines got on the board first in Thursday’s game. At 15 minutes, Weiser forward Chris Cornejo took a deflection and nailed the shot while falling back to give the Wolverines an early lead.
The Tigers responded at 55 minutes, with midfielder Erick Lopez beating his defender and slamming a shot from distance into the crossbar, which bounced down and into the goal.
Tigers hoping to stay atop GOL
Coming off a historic season, the Tigers have high hopes for 2019. Last season, Ontario won the Greater Oregon League Championship for the first time since 2002 and was the No. 2-ranked team in the state going into the playoffs.
But coming off of Thursday’s game, Ontario knows that staying on top will require some work.
Ontario coach Jaime Gonzalez agreed that Ontario struggled to find its offensive identity in the season opener, as they struggled to keep the attack running.
“When you see how many shots we had, when compared to them, we had the ball on our side too much,” Gonzalez said.
One spot the Tigers will need to develop is the wing, Gonzalez said. Last fall, Enoc Ponce excelled at that position, running the ball up the field and crossing it in front of the goal. Gonzalez said the Tigers will need some players to grow into that roll.
Another point of emphasis right now for Ontario will be team cohesion. Most of the team leadership from last season graduated and Gonzalez said the older players will need to step up and lead this team.
“We’ve really got to get our cohesion,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve got to mesh. It’s going to take baby steps with this group right now, since the whole team dynamic is different.”
Thursday was the varsity debut for Julian Tellez, someone who the Ontario coaching staff has been excited about for a while.
“He’s got elite speed,” Gonzalez said. “It’s exciting. We’ll continue to work on the basics, combine that with his speed and he’ll really come together.”
Tellez wasn’t able to score on Thursday, but he was the focal point of the Ontario offense for the majority of the game. Gonzalez said he’s excited to see what Tellez can do, especially when he’s paired up front with Greg Rodriguez (Ontario’s top scorer from 2017, missed most of 2018 due to injury).
Part of that offensive identity will come in time as Gonzalez said the Tigers just implemented a new formation that will take advantage of having Tellez and Rodriguez on the attack. The problem is, Gonzalez said, that it was hard to work a new formation against a team like Weiser.
Gonzalez said the Tigers have all of the tools to end 2019 still on top in the district, they will just have to continue to grow this fall.
“We really need to settle into our identity, whatever it is,” Gonzalez said. “We need to stay healthy and push forward.”
A big opener for Weiser
After Thursday’s game, coach Kathy Bokides was thrilled with the performance of the Wolverines. Even watching the players cool down, arms locked, Bokides was beside herself with the way the players looked.
“It took us half the year to get them to do that last year,” she said.
Bokides said Thursday’s performance showcased just how hard the Wolverines have been working in the offseason, as they got a taste of success near the end of a tough 2018 season.
“These guys worked hard all summer,” Bokides said. “We’ve been able to see them grow so much in one year. We’ve really picked up where we left off.”
Bokides said a lot of the strength of this Weiser team comes from the camaraderie they have, and their improved focus after last season.
“Last year, I think it got their attention,” Bokides said. The Wolverines finished the 2018 season with a 7-11-2 record and missed out on the state tournament.
One of the big showcases for the Wolverines on Thursday was Cornejo, who scored Weiser’s lone goal and came up close on a couple of other attempts.
“He worked really hard this summer,” Bokides said. “Last year, he was more rigid, he played like a football player. But now he’s just got so much confidence.”
Bokides has paired Cornejo with Bryce Bake as the two forwards for the Wolverines. With both standing well over six feet tall, Bokides expects Cornejo and Bake to be an imposing duo for opponents.
“They make a good team together,” she said.