By Liliana Marquez
After two consecutive seasons without advancing to playoffs, the East Los Angeles College men’s soccer team clinched a spot despite losing against Los Angeles Harbor College, 2-0, on Nov. 14 at Weingart Stadium.
The Huskies ended the regular season ranked No. 10 in the South Region with a record of 8-8-5 overall and 5-6-3 in the South Coast Conference.
ELAC will face Santiago Canyon College (13-4-3, 9-3-2) from the Orange Empire Conference on Saturday at 7 p.m. on Hawk turf.
The Hawks ended No. 7 in the South Region and second place in their conference.
For the last two years, the SCC has had six teams, out of the total eight, advance to playoffs out of the 14 that qualify in the South Region.
ELAC Head Coach Eddie Flores said that it’s considered the toughest conference in the state.
This season Mt. San Antonio, Cerritos and El Camino colleges are ranked No. 2, No. 4 and No. 6 statewide, respectively.
“That shows that it’s the strongest conference in the state. I know Chaffey (College) is undefeated, but it’s coming out of a weak conference,” Flores said.
“Taft College (No.1 seed in the Northern Region) is 19-0-2 (overall), and although they haven’t lost a game, they play in another part of the state, so that’s something different. We are in a very tough conference.”
If the Huskies win on Saturday, they will play at Cerritos in the second round on Nov. 25.
“We haven’t been in the playoffs for two years, so we made some adjustments and that helped us a lot. At the end of the day we have a hard time scoring goals,” Flores said.
“Horacio (Zapiola) and Cesar (Alvarez) don’t put the ball in the back of the net, and without that, we just can’t (move on).”
Although some of the ELAC players have suffered minor injuries, Flores said that all of them should be fit for Saturday’s clash against Santiago Canyon.
Flores also said that Husky captain and goalkeeper Andy Gutierrez, who got injured during the match against Harbor, got cleared by ELAC Athletic Trainer Diane Stankevitz. He returned to training on Monday.
Husky Jose Gudino, who suffered a calf injury, also practiced on Monday.
“Everybody else, aside from Gutierrez and Gudino, are healthy. This is an opportunity for the players. Not many teams go to the playoffs. Only 14 out of like 37, so it’s a great opportunity for the college, the program and the players,” Flores said. Gutierrez said he was excited when he found out that ELAC made it to the playoffs.
“We’ve had our ups and downs and when they (the coaches) told us today that we play Santiago Canyon on Saturday, I felt relieved. I am expecting our team to play with a lot of heart and desire,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez was named to the 2014 All-South Coast Conference First Team along with teammate Juan Gallegos.
“That is great. All hard work since July and before preseason working out in the heat was terrible, but it was all worth it,” Gutierrez said.
For Gallegos, to find out he made it to the All-SCC First Team, was unexpected.
“To be honest, I’m really shocked and I’m also really happy. I thank my family and teammates because if it wasn’t for them I don’t think I would have performed the way I did throughout the season,” Gallegos said.
Teammates Alfredo Leon and Benjamin Cuevas were named to the All-SCC Second Team while Gudino got Honorable Mention.
“I wasn’t expecting something like this. I was expecting to make it to the playoffs and hopefully go on to win a state championship. It’s been a while since ELAC last won it and we already made history this year by beating Mt. SAC,” Leon said.