The Kennewick boys soccer team isn’t the same bunch it was in 2012, when the Lions reached the 3A state tournament for the first time in 19 seasons.
The graduation of dynamic midfielders Geo Vasquez and David Covarrubias left Kennewick without its two top scorers, and what was once a high-powered attack is not quite as formidable as before.
Only two teams in the Mid-Columbia Conference — Pasco (15) and Southridge (9) — scored fewer goals than the 18 the Lions netted.
Fortunately, the Lions’ defense has been exceptional.
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Through 17 games, the Kenne-wick back third of sophomore Anthony Arroyo, senior Noe Diaz, junior Marcos Borja and junior Esau Vasquez has allowed just six goals, a remarkable rate that translates to about one goal every three games. Richland, the MCC co-runner-up and top 4A district seed, scored a league-high 34 goals and allowed 14.
“A typical championship team you’ll see about a 3-to-1 ratio of goals to goals-against. Our goals against rate is phenomenal, but our goals scored leaves something to be desired,” Kennewick coach Brian Gochoel said. “The key to our defense is their commitment to playing within the system. These guys are as consistent as any coach could every want.”
The Lions (14-3), who will face Shadle Park (8-10) at 6 p.m. today at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane, have tightened up even more on defense over the last half of the season, giving up just one goal over the last eight games. Kennewick’s 2-0 win over North Central on Tuesday in the first round of the District 5/8 regional playoffs ran the Lions’ scoreless streak to 505 minutes dating back to a shootout loss to Kamiakin on April 16.
Borja attributes the success to chemistry that has been building since seventh grade.
“At first, I didn’t think we’d be this solid,” he said. But now he would feel comfortable pitting his back line against any are club team.
Diaz, who anchors the central defense along with Arroyo, said most of the mistakes came on communication breakdowns early in the season.
“One mistake can produce a soft goal and be the determining factor in the game,” Diaz said. “But right from the beginning, we had an idea of what to do.”
Arroyo had a few challenges to overcome before earning a starting position, namely stepping up to the challenge of the upperclassmen.
“I had to overcome a lot of juniors and a lot of people putting me down,” he said. “It just gave me motivation to play.”
Gochoel has been more than pleased with his performance.
“Anthony has done his talking on the field with his boots,” Gochoel said. “I see him as a future pillar of the program.”
Nobody is going to make anyone forget about Geo Vasquez, but his brother Esau has worked hard to establish his own identity on the back line. Esau also has something Geo doesn’t: a league championship, the Lions’ first since earning back-to-back Big Nine titles in 1988-89.
“I don’t mind (the comparison),” Esau said. “We both started out on defense.”
But the back line gives full credit to the goalkeeping tandem of Jose Rodriguez (723 minutes, 4 goals against, 0.44 goals against average) and Henry Hernandez (630, 2, 0.25), who have combined to give Kennewick a little more peace-of-mind if a forward does break through.
“We’re both good at penalty kicks, and (Henry) is really good at playing the ball to people’s feet,” Rodriguez said. “We were competitive at the beginning. Now we support each other.”
With that kind of support — both mental and tactical — there’s no dream the Lions can’t realize this year.
And no goal they can’t prevent.