After opening the season with a 15-0 loss to North Monterey County, the Anzar High boys soccer team had nowhere to go but up. And that’s exactly what the Hawks have done. Anzar entered the week with a 6-1-1 record in the Mission Trail Coastal League, good for a virtual tie for first place with Pacific Collegiate (5-1-0).
Should Anzar win the division, it would play a team from the upper league for the MTAL’s last automatic playoff berth. Anonth Srisavathay, a senior midfielder, doesn’t go more than an hour everyday without thinking about the postseason.
“It would be a dream come true if we could make CCS,” he said. “I know the seniors want to do something to put Anzar on the map, and I feel like this is the season to do it. We’re good teammates, and outside of that, we’re better friends. Our bond is so strong, and that really helps to play for each other.”
To get there, the team needed to hash things out in a meeting a couple of days before the start of league play.
“Everyone aired their frustrations and problems,” said Raul Vega, who is in his second season as the Anzar coach. “They finally let go of their egos and individual stats, and they realized how much better they could be if everyone played their role as opposed to everyone playing for stats or the big catchy headline. Once they finally let that go, success came quickly.”
Granted, part of Anzar’s turnaround is due to the fact that it is playing less talented teams in the Coastal compared to the strong sides it played in the non-league portion of its schedule. However, the Hawks have improved as the season has gone along, and they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Led by Srisavathay, Alejandro Bocanegra, Bryan Martinez, Juan Carlos Almanza, Cesar Vasquez, Isaiah Garcia, Rivaldo Cerritos, Chris Winterbottom and Adolfo Rodriguez, the Hawks have taken off in Coastal play.
Srisavathay and Vasquez have done a great job of manning the midfield and dictating play.
“They’re the key to our success this season,” Vega said. “If we control the midfield, we control the games. Everything goes at our pace.”
Bocanegra and Cerritos have also played pivotal roles at fullback. Bocanegra is one of the most physical players in the league, and uses his speed to outrun the opposition and win 50-50 balls. “Alejandro has been a revelation for us,” Vega said. “He didn’t play the previous three years, but he’s an intelligent player who knows how to protect the forwards and when to attack when he’s on the wing. He’s definitely holding it down for us.”
Vega noted the play of Rodriguez, a freshman goalkeeper whose best days are ahead of him.
“I feel quote-unquote he might be the franchise player in the future,” Vega said. “This kid showed nerves of steel I’ve never seen from a lot of goalies, let alone a freshman.”
Srisavathay knows his role, crediting Vega for keeping everyone together and making the game fun. Srisavathay possesses a strong leg, able to put powerful shots on goal from 40 yards away. More important, if Srisavathay is touching the ball a lot, it’s a great sign for Anzar.
“If I can control the game from the midfield, I already know the outcome,” he said. “As soon as I get the ball, I look up and my job is to find my wingers on the run. I also need to create space with the dribble, take a shot or pass it out. I have great vision on the field and see everything around me, with good game awareness.”
Srisavathay has been inspired by his dad, Seng, who taught the game to his son through hundreds of sessions on their front yard.
“He’s my idol,” Anonth said. “When I began playing my first year of soccer at 7 or 8, I was completely trash. I had no idea what to do, and my dad saw me and said, ‘OK, we’re going to fix this.’ He showed me how to properly pass and kick until I was able to do it on my own. He created a strong bond with me and is basically my best friend and one of my biggest motivators.”
Srisavathay and Vega said the team meeting was the key to the team’s turnaround. Anzar played some strong teams while it was still trying to forge an identity.
“We were still finding ourselves,” Vega said. “The guys didn’t believe in themselves at the beginning of the season. It was a struggle to get the guys to believe in themselves and believe in the team. We needed to get beat down to our lowest point in order to get back up on the saddle.”