Los Angeles Soccer: Steve Palacios
San Clemente High School's reputation as a girls' soccer powerhouse took a beating of sorts Saturday night, but Tritons coach Stacey Finnerty certainly didn't mind.
“Give him a big kiss for me,” she texted as a few reporters prepared to greet giddy Mike Pronier after his boys' team added to the school's haul of soccer trophies with a victory over Buchanan, from Clovis, in the Southern California Regional Division I final.
This kind of success is expected from Finnerty's girls, who have won seven CIF Southern Section championships, plus the 2008 regional title -- with a victory over Buchanan -- and fell just short this year, losing in the section Division 1 title game and the regional semifinals.
The boys are tasting it for the first time.
“I'm speechless,” Pronier said after an impressive 4-1 triumph at Warren High School in Downey over a team that hadn't conceded a playoff goal. “It's, like, when we started, we knew we had a good team. We went through some ups and downs, and you can do all the coaching in the world, but it wasn't until they got together at the end of our league season, dyed their hair and did mohawks that we really turned the corner on the season.
“I don't know what that means, but they came together and got better and better, and to finish in this style, with a great offensive performance, is indicative of the team they are.”
Star forward Steve Palacios, sporting a brick-red mohawk, was the catalyst, scoring one goal, sending in a cross for another and crashing shots off the crossbar and left post in an inspired performance despite playing with a slightly separated left shoulder.
“He kept bringing it with the shoulder,” Pronier said. “Some people may not have played [with the injury], but we've gone back and forth over the years, because I knew he had that in him, and sometimes he brought it and sometimes he didn't, but he did nothing but bring it every game in the playoffs. Once we got to the playoffs, he brought his best every day, and I'm proud of it.”
Palacios, who's headed to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, noted the unity that spurred the Tritons (20-5-5) to five one-goal victories en route to their first Southern Section boys' soccer title, then three more wins -- by an 8-1 margin -- in the regional playoffs.
“As ridiculous as we look,” Palacios said, “it's all about team bonding, doing something together. If we look stupid, we look stupid together. … And we win together.”
Seven L.A.-area players have been called up for camps involving the U.S. under-23 and under-20 women's national teams and under-18 men's team.
The U-23 women are headed to La Manga, Spain, for a Feb. 21-March 2 tournament with Sweden's, Norway's and England's U-23 teams. Former UCLA midfielder Kylie Wright, a first-round pick by the Atlanta Beat in Women's Professional Soccer's draft last month, is among 10 WPS players on the U.S. roster.
The U-20 women opened a weeklong camp Sunday at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista and play the University of San Diego's women on Saturday.
The U-18 men began a nine-day camp Saturday in Phoenix. They have games planned against four MLS clubs: Sporting Kansas City and Colorado Rapids on Tuesday, and Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers on Saturday.
The local players:
M Kylie Wright (Rancho Santa Margarita), Tesoro HS/UCLA, Atlanta Beat
F Michelle Cruz (Thousand Oaks), Thousand Oaks HS/University of Portland, Real So Cal
F Ariana Martinez (Moorpark), Moorpark HS/UCLA, Real So Cal
F Tawni Martino (Irvine), Beckman HS/Loyola Marymount, So Cal Blues
D Pablo Ocegueda (Riverside), Saddleback HS, UANL Tigres (Mexico)
M Luis Gil (Garden Grove), Santiago HS, Real Salt Lake
F Steve Palacios (San Clemente), San Clemente HS, United Football Club