By Liliana Marquez
The East Los Angeles College soccer team qualified for the 2014 California Community College Athletics Association SoCal Regional playoffs for the first time since 2011, a great ending to a thrilling season.
The Huskies ended their season 8-9-5 overall, 5-6-3 in the South Coast Conference and advanced to playoffs along with five other SCC teams.
ELAC finished its season with a 2-1 defeat in the first round of playoffs on the road against Santiago Canyon College, Nov. 22.
“I thought the game against Santiago Canyon was a thriller. We controlled the game and we made two defensive mistakes that cost us,” ELAC Head Coach Eddie Flores said. “I know that everybody left everything on the field and that’s all you can ask from the players.”
Andy Gutierrez, starting goalkeeper and captain, along with teammate Juan Gallegos were named to the 2014 All-SCC First team. Alfredo Leon, who was also part of the 2011 ELAC squad that also qualified to playoffs, was named to the All-SCC Second Team with teammate Benjamin Cuevas. Jose Gudino received an Honorable Mention.
ELAC ended ranked No.11 in the South Region Standings and qualified despite ending SCC play with a 2-0 home defeat against Los Angeles Harbor College.
The Huskies were knocked out in the first round along with SCC rivals LA Harbor, El Camino (SCC Champion) and Long Beach City colleges.
Although the match against Santiago Canyon ended in a loss, for ELAC Assistant Coach David Garcia, the team delivered its best performance of the season.
“It was just heart and emotions. Just because of two little incidents we lost the game. The opponents played a hell of a game too,” Garcia said.
“It was just character and attitude what got us there and at the end of the day that’s what you need at this level. You need to have that because if you don’t have it, you are not going to get far.”
For Garcia the effort, attitude, character and commitment that the Huskies showed during that match made them winners.
One of the players who was affected the most by the defeat against Santiago Canyon was ELAC’s captain Gutierrez.
“It was tough because I know we had the opportunities to win the game, but we were unlucky. It was just difficult to lose against a team that we could have beaten,” Gutierrez said.
ELAC Assistant Coach Victor Clara said the playoff match was very intense and in his opinion, the Huskies were well prepared for it.
“Unfortunately, we had two little mental breakdowns defensively where the other team was able to capitalize. Even then, I still thought that the team worked really hard and they fought until the end,” Clara said.
One of the highlights of the season was the conference road match against Mt. San Antonio College where the Huskies took a 2-1 victory over the Mounties, Nov. 7.
This was the first time in years that the Huskies defeated the Mounties.
The victory was important for ELAC not only because the Mounties were one of the top-ranked teams in the state, but also because they played on Mt. SAC’s own turf.
The Mounties, who have been state champions for four consecutive years (2009-2012), were ranked No. 3 statewide and No. 2 in the South Region Standings coming into the match.
Garcia, who along with the other assistant coaches is an ELAC alumnus, said he never got to defeat the Mounties when he played for ELAC, so the victory was special for him.
“Basically the message for that game and the reason why I believe we ended up rising to the occasion was that we told the players right off the bat not to play for ELAC, their families or for us,” Garcia said.
“We told them to play for each other and the fire just lit up in their eyes and they executed.”
Other crucial victories for the Huskies were against Pasadena City College, both home and away, and against Long Beach on the road.
After the victory against the Vikings on Oct. 31, the Huskies were on the right track to playoffs, but they faced El Camino College Compton Center losing to them for the first time in the last five seasons.
ELAC lost a total of six conference games and for five of them the goal difference was one, which cost them 15 points in the process. The Huskies tied three times, losing another six points.
“We should have been easily in the (SCC) top three. If I go back to the games that were critical for us, we probably should have ended as conference champions. The tie against Long Beach here at home, they had ten guys, we had 11 and we didn’t capitalize,” Garcia said.
“The Cerritos game at home we ended up tying. They tied us at the last minute on a set piece. El Camino also tied us at home. Right off the bat those are almost ten points lost at the last minute.”
Garcia also said that this season’s squad helped to show other schools that ELAC has a lot of potential players.
“We were still big contenders in the conference. I think this year this crew pumped up ELAC’s image and made sure that every team here respects us,” Garcia said.
He said that for him the season was full of sacrifice, especially when it came to those players who have kids.
“When we ask them to commit to a season that is this stressful and requires sacrifice not only at school, but that is also physically and emotionally demanding, for the players to make the commitment and be here and give it all, that’s the definition of sacrifice,” Garcia said.
Now that the season ended, Garcia said the ELAC coaching staff is set to meet in the upcoming weeks to talk about the changes they will make to improve the program, hoping to get better results next season.
Leonel Nuñez also contributed to this story.