Balers have it tough in Gabilan Division

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The San Benito High boys soccer team knows it has to play smart and disciplined if it wants to have success in the Gabilan Division. Photo by Robert Eliason.

As long as the San Benito High boys soccer team is in the Pacific Coast League’s Gabilan Division—arguably the toughest in the Central Coast Section for boys soccer—the Haybalers will have their work cut out for them. Greg Dolan knows this, and that is why the second-year San Benito coach expects his players to give nothing less than their best effort in every practice and match. A 1-0 loss to Gilroy High on Nov. 26 gave a glimpse into how the Balers look like when they’re firing on all cylinders, while also showing their flaws when they’re not in sync.

In the first half, San Benito controlled the run of play with rapid-fire passes, hustle and determination. In the second half, however, those things were absent. The Balers were out of rhythm, not flying to the ball and unable to impose their will on the smaller Mustangs like they did  in the first 40 minutes of action.

“We weren’t winning any tackles (in the second half) because we didn’t deserve to win any tackles,” Dolan said. “We were not going into them properly, and if you’re not giving 100 percent, then you shouldn’t be out there. And if you’re playing the midfield, you need to tackle full bodied.”

San Benito finished 0-8-2 in the Gabilan Division last season, but this is one case in which its record wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked. Remarkably, seven of their eight defeats came by one goal, which meant the Balers were in every single contest. But that meant they had to play near-perfect in every league match to earn a victory. That’s a tough assignment for any team since perfection is hard to come by, but Dolan feels this season will be a different story.

“I think overall as a group we have a more talented team this year than last year,” he said. “With the mixture of youth and seniors, I have really high hopes for this team. Our goal is to go to CCS, and I think we have so much good talent right now that if we don’t get in, it’s got to be on my shoulder.”

Against Gilroy, most of the Balers’ shots came from outside the 18-yard box. Dolan wants his players to flood the box, put pressure on the opposition and unleash shots from close range.

“At some point we have to infiltrate the box and poke something in,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be fancy.”

Dolan said he wasn’t terribly disappointed with the loss considering the team was missing two of its top players, including premier midfielder Adrian Maldonado.

“I can easily say if he was playing (against Gilroy), we win the game,” Dolan said. “But we can’t rely on that (because players will miss games from time to time). Adrian is just a beast. He has great determination and drive, and he’s possessed out there. It’s beautiful to watch him out there because he wants to win every ball.”

San Benito has some playmakers up top in George Molina and Luis Garcia. Both players have the ability to make things happen and create scoring opportunities even with a man on them.

“George is probably our best goal scorer,” Dolan said. “Once the ball is on his foot, he has one of the sweetest left foots in the league. Luis takes the game very seriously and is powerful but raw. Sometimes he’s like a runaway train with no brakes and flying around like a madman. My goal is to get him to win the ball, keep aggressive and give it and go. His thing is to win it and try to beat two or three players. He’s talented and I’m looking forward to see how he grows as a player.”

The Balers had five or six legitimate scoring opportunities against Gilroy, and Garcia had two or three of them. He possesses a rocket for a shot which was on display against the Mustangs. In the 12th minute, Garcia was in the center of the 18-yard box when he unleashed a one-timer that was stopped by a diving Gilroy goalkeeper. In the 27th minute, Garcia once again was unmarked, this time at the top of the 18-yard box.

He unleashed a hard shot that sailed over the top crossbar. Garcia will get more looks like that throughout the season, and how he and his teammates finish their scoring chances will go a long way in determining how their season unfolds. One of the Balers’ best scoring chances came in the 32nd minute when Molina feathered a terrific pass to Abraham Nunez, who was deep in the 18-yard box. But Nunez’s shot went wide right.

Three minutes later, it was Molina who had a golden opportunity to score inside the 18-yard box. His shot also went wide in what would be a theme for San Benito all game. Erik Servin returns as the team’s top defender, a captain and one of the team leaders. On the field, Servin can pretty much take any top offensive player 1-on-1, as his speed, instincts and physicality lends itself well to playing top-notch defense.

Outside of matches, Servin has been known to gather the players to keep everyone in line with team play and making sure everyone is accountable in terms of being on time to practice. Servin proved to be stout defensively, especially when Gilroy had a number of odd-man rushes in the second half. On two or three occasions, he stayed with his man and got the ball out of the team’s own end.

Goalkeeper Wilbert Casaca should be a reliable presence as the last line of defense.

Possessing one of the strongest legs in the league—not just for a goalie but all positions—Casaca made some tremendous saves against Gilroy and knows how to play the angles. Like all goalies, Casaca is learning how to master the art of coming aggressively off his line and taking control of certain situations.

“He’s the one position I’m not concerned about,” Dolan said. “I have to work on the midfield, and  once we figure that out—and once Adrian comes back which should be the next game—I think some of our problems will go away.”

Midfielder Alex Servin possesses tremendous ball skills, and Dolan is looking for him to not do too much with the ball and be one of the main players who make sure the ball is moving with precision. Jake Hernandez has made the transition from the midfield to left-side defense and has given the team a boost with his energy and solid play. Since Gilroy plays in the Mission Division, the loss won’t count in San Benito’s league record. However, Dolan hopes the team learns from the defeat.

“We just took our foot off the gas and started getting sloppy,” he said. “The conversation (at halftime) was they’ve given us all they can, and we have them. I can’t blame it on fitness because they’ve been training hard for the last five weeks. In the second half, we basically couldn’t make a pass and we took things for granted. Our forward line didn’t touch the ball because our midfield couldn’t give them the ball. We were a little complacent, our passes were going astray and our forwards were waiting and not getting back. I’m so glad this was the first game; this is when we figure it out and are allowed to make mistakes that we can’t make in league.”

San Benito utilized a 4-3-3 formation, but Dolan might return to a 4-5-1 to “shore things up.” Although the Balers have a talented roster, the other teams in the Gabilan Division are loaded as well. Winning in the Gabilan Division comes down to focus, discipline and playing intelligently.

“Last year was very disappointing where I won’t make the mistake again where I think I have a great team and everything is going to roll,” said Dolan, who mentioned the team’s lack of tackling as one of the main reasons why the Balers lost to Gilroy. “If you’re not going to tackle against Gilroy, you’re going to get your butt kicked against the big boys. That is what infuriated me. Either give me everything or don’t give me anything at all.”

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