By Aaron Valdez
Having already won the league title, Monrovia boys soccer enjoyed themselves a victory lap as the team cruised to a 2-0 victory over Temple City High School on Thursday.
The Wildcats became the Rio Hondo league champs after taking a hard-fought contest 3-2 over runners-up La Canada on Feb. 6.
“It feels good. It’s a big accomplishment but we want to continue to go forward,” said first-year Head Coach Andrew Barajas on his squad winning the league title.
Monrovia finished the regular season with an overall record of 16-6-3, a league record of 9-1 and is now poised for a deep run in the playoffs.
In the match against the Temple City Rams, Barajas opted to rest his regular starters since the league champ had already been decided. He felt it was best to give some of the younger players on the team a chance to gain some much-needed experience.
Despite the shakeup to the usual lineup, Monrovia didn’t skip a beat by keeping possession of the ball and limiting mistakes on the defensive end. The Wildcats jumped out to early lead when Keenan Mckelvey cleaned up a rebound from an Eduardo Mendez shot to put Monrovia up 1-0.
Monrovia’s constant pressure earned them many chances in the final third, which ultimately led to their second goal of the match. After a cross from a corner kick and a scramble in the 18-yard box, the ball bounced right in front of junior midfielder David Johnson, who calmly slotted the ball into goal for the 2-0 advantage.
Johnson’s goal would serve as the Wildcats’ final one of the game but it didn’t stop them from keeping their foot on the gas. Monrovia’s wingers found major success along the flanks, taking full advantage of their speed to create various scoring opportunities.
Temple City also had no answers for Monrovia’s defensive line, especially goalkeeper Aiden Mckelvey, whose best save came in the second half during a one-on-one situation. The sophomore finished the game with three saves and did well to pick out any threatening crosses that came his way.
Midfielder Bryan Martinez – who leads Temple City in assists with nine – gave Monrovia the hardest time as he managed to get off three shots with all of them being on goal. However, the Wildcats were able to walk away unscathed with another shutout (seven total on the season) under their belts.
Before Barajas was at the helm of varsity soccer, he was coaching junior varsity for four years, which helped him establish good relationships with his players since they were young. He said the extended time gave him a chance to mold the team to play a more possession-based style, one that promotes a great amount of ball movement.
Now that Barajas’ implemented philosophies have panned out quite nicely, the Wildcats are set to play Mission Valley League’s Mountain View High School (10-9-3) in the first round of CIF playoffs on Feb. 16.
The team knows there is still a lot work left but Barajas said he always knows how to motivate his players.
“We go one game at a time and tell them, ‘Hey, just play this game like it’s your last game,’” Barajas said. “The boys they are a family, they understand that so that’s always a plus.”