By Joe Naiman
Ramona High School’s boys soccer team played seven matches in a five-day period, from Dec. 3 to 7.
The Bulldogs opened their season Dec. 3 with a 3-0 road win over Mar Vista before playing six Imperial Valley Tournament games in three days.
“We are the walking wounded right now, but everybody got plenty of playing time including the reserve players. It was a nice team bonding experience,” coach Michael Jordan said of the tournament.
Ramona reached the tournament semifinals and posted a 1-2-3 record, giving the Bulldogs a season record of two wins, two losses, and three draws. Last year’s team finished 20-3-3, including a loss in the CIF Division II quarterfinals.
“This is not last year’s team,” Jordan said. “Each player needs to figure out their part.”
Ramona lost seven starters from 2012-13, and David Soto is the only returning starting defender. Soto, Brandon Chavez,Tanarat Crowe, and Jesus Moreno were the defenders who contributed to Ramona’s shutout win to open the season. Starting goalkeeper Jesse Bonilla needed to make only one save while Tony Alba made two saves during the Mariners’ offensive emphasis in the final seven minutes.
The Bulldogs were also without their top scorers from last year.
“We were kind of wondering where our offensive production was going to come from and who was going to step up,” Jordan said.
Varsity newcomers Carlos Morales and Mason Pierce stepped up in the first half with Pierce’s assist leading to Morales’ goal and a 1-0 halftime lead for the Bulldogs.
In the second half, Brandon Duarte scored on a direct kick, and Ramona closed out the scoring on a goal by Dillon Alwan with an assist from Alejandro Rodriguez.
“It’s a nice way to start off the season,” Jordan said. “It was definitely good.”
The Imperial Valley Tournament was hosted by Central High School of El Centro. Ramona’s first opponent Dec. 5 was El Centro’s Southwest High School.
“They’re a good team. They went to the ball hard,” said Jordan.
The Eagles scored the game’s first goal.
“We responded and came back,” Jordan said.
Duarte’s shot was saved by Southwest’s goalkeeper, but sophomore Angel Zepeda was in position for the rebound and scored.
The game ended with a 1-1 score.
“It was back and forth. We felt like a 1-1 draw was a fair result,” Jordan said.
Ramona’s other Dec. 5 game was against Brawley High School. The game was a scoreless tie.
“We had plenty of opportunities to score. We just couldn’t get one into the back of the net,” Jordan said. “Still nice to get a shutout.”
Bonilla and Alba shared goalkeeping duties.
Ramona played Palo Verde of Blythe to a 1-1 tie in the teams’ first Dec. 6 game. Italian exchange student Filippo Rallo converted a pass from Alwan into a goal from a sliding position, but the Yellow Jackets tied the game on a penalty kick.
Ramona’s other Dec. 6 game was a 2-1 loss to Central. The Spartans took the initial lead, Duarte scored the equalizer, and Central scored the winning goal on a penalty kick. The win gave Central the top pool play finish and a bye into the semifinals.
Ramona began play Dec. 7 with a quarterfinal match against Palo Verde.
In the rematch against the Yellow Jackets, Duarte scored a hat trick in Ramona’s 5-0 victory.
“Brandon played lights out,” said Jordan.
Zepeda and Gaspar Aparicio scored Ramona’s other two goals. Bonilla and Alba played one half apiece in the nets.
Ramona’s Dec. 7 semifinal against Central was played in high winds. The Spartans won the coin toss and chose to have their back to the wind in the first half. Jordan responded with a formation utilizing four defenders, five midfielders, and one forward.
“You couldn’t do anything with the wind,” he said.
The first half was scoreless, but a breakaway goal in the second half gave Central a 1-0 victory.
“I got to see a lot of guys who showed themselves to be just warriors,” Jordan said of the tournament.
Ramona hosts El Camino in Friday night’s game, which is the Bulldogs’ annual Fan Night recognition.