Pacheco High’s soccer team dropped its final game of the season 4-1 to Patterson. But the Panthers were just a few points out of contention, a far cry from last year when Pacheco and Los Banos finished in the last two spots in league play.
“I think we played our game. They are a tough team to beat, and they are third place,” Pacheco coach Daniel Elizalde said. “We knew we didn’t have a chance to qualify. We were out already. So our focus was to enjoy the game and have fun, and give everybody a chance to enjoy the game. More than half our team is seniors, so I was doing a lot of subbing.”
Senior Jesse Malfavon scored Pacheco’s only goal off a Raymundo Gonzalez pass. Meanwhile, Andres Grasso played between the pipes when Elizalde’s starting goalkeeper missed the game.
For the Panthers, being in contention late in the season was a little unfamiliar. The Western Athletic Conference sends three teams to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, and the Panthers finished fourth at 6-6.
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“It meant a lot for us, especially because we’re in an area where there’s not a lot of soccer,” Elizalde said. “So we were going against teams that are playing soccer throughout the year. We played more as a team. In previous years there was a lot of conflict among players. This year they were never complaining among themselves. We stuck as a team.”
Pacheco entered the game coming off a 10-1 win over Los Banos, which played the game with eight players due to problems with eligibility. The Tigers finished 0-12 in league play.
Elizalde will lose 12 seniors next year, with eight players returning. Perhaps the hardest player to replace will be striker Edgar Iglesias, who scored 14 goals in league play, a record for Pacheco.
“You rarely have somebody that can play forward that can strike and is also an excellent header,” Elizalde said. “If you watched his games, a lot of the goals were headers, and its tough to find a guy who can strike and head it as well. I don’t know if I’ll find somebody that can do that.”
But the Panthers, despite returning less than half the team, will have some pieces to work with, with three starters returning.
“The other ones that didn’t start, they have skills that they can improve. We’ll be fine, and we’ll have more students coming in,” Elizalde said. “I had to pull about three JV players up (after the JV team folded), and they were pretty good soccer players.”