Sophomore Nelson Herrera gave Maine West the perfect start to its boys soccer season bu striking for both goals, the second coming at 72 minutes, as the Warriors emerged with a 2-1 victory over visiting Elk Grove on Monday night in a season opener for both.
The Warriors, who fell 1 win short of reaching the 3A state tournament last October, lost the heart and soul of their back line from a year ago, but they welcome back senior captain Tommy Cerri at midfield, plus a wealth of talented players with postseason experience.
Such as Herrera, who along with Xavier Gomez and Alex Herrera figure to form a dangerous attacking trio in the Central Suburban League this fall.
"There's a lot to be excited about with this year's team, and we all have high hopes, but we also know there's a lot of work ahead of us, and tonight was just one match in a long season," said Cerri, who will share the captain's armband with Ramon Contreras, Spencer Walton andd Tait Jensen for coach Mike Divincenzo.
"I thought this was a very good effort on our part in our first match, and we learned a lot of things about the team playing against a program which comes out of the MSL and can play very good defense," said Divincenzo. "Our first-half possession was very good, and at times, when we played through the middle and found Nelson up top, you briefly saw how he can be a real force in close, and how we'll be able to create some things when we're going forward."
The visiting Grens, who won the Mid-Suburban East last season, struggled a bit along the back where coach Joe Bush lost all four of his starters, including all-area standout Rafal Borys. But after intermission and a chance to make a few adjustments, the back line was far more solid than in the first 40 minutes. That helped the Grens generate more chances.
"There are a lot of guys on this roster that were playing on the freshman team last year at this time, so it was very important for them to survive the first 10-15 minutes of this match, then hopefully settle down the rest of the way," said Bush. "Maine West has so many talented players, and I bet they probably had 80 percent of the possession in the first half. But we came away just a goal down, and we got ourselves back into the match on a great free kick from Eddie (Rodriguez) and it was a fantastic combination near the end which gave Mike's team a well-deserved goal and the victory."
Nelson Herrera converted his spot kick at 19 minutes after the sophomore was pulled down inadvertently just inside the box. That completed a wonderful quarter-hour of socce from the Warriors, who were knocking the ball all around the pitch, using width and quick touches to help keep the visitors defending much more than they'd have liked.
The equalizer helped inspire the Grens, whose confidence appeared to grow with each touch.
Both teams had chances near the end. Alex Herrera missed wide on a pair of blasts for Maine West before setting up Nelson Herrera on the game-winner.
"We have some work to do everywhere, but we got 18 guys into the game tonight, and that was good for them and us, and we were able to start the season with a victory, and that's all good," Divicenzo said.