Wes Wing is well aware of what he’s inherited.
The Pacheco High School boys soccer team was on the cusp of something special a year ago when things fizzled out late. The Panthers missed out on the Western Athletic Conference crown in the final few games of the regular season and then were shocked in their first playoff game, losing to Dixon on penalty kicks.
With the bulk of the squad back, including arguably the area’s best player in Brian Nevarez, and key additions, the expectations are there for the first-year Pacheco coach to help his squad finish what it started a year ago.
So far, so good.
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The Panthers turned in a dominant performance in their season opener Tuesday night, outshooting two-time defending Central California Conference champion Atwater 18-4 and cruising to a comfortable 3-0 victory at Veterans Stadium.
“I’ve got no complaints,” Wing said. “We played the ball out of the back effectively. We asserted ourselves in the passing game and held the ball for most of the night. Our movement was pretty good. We could have finished better, but that’s going to come with time.
“It was good to kind of shake off the cobwebs and get a get a good victory against a good team.”
Wing’s squad needed just five minutes to open the scoring. Nevarez won a ball near midfield and spotted a streaking Cesar Martinez on the right wing. Nevarez floated a ball over the Atwater (0-1) back line that Martinez was able to trap in stride. The junior striker shot under charging Falcons goalkeeper Andrew Ulloa to make it 1-0 Pacheco.
The Panthers threatened to expand their lead throughout the first half.
Utilizing the full width of the pitch and a quick give-and-go passing game, Pacheco carved up an inexperienced Atwater defense. Ulloa (game-high six saves) did everything he could to keep his squad in the contest, but the Panthers finally doubled their lead in the 38th minute with some luck.
Pacheco’s Rodolfo Rivera headed a cross back into the middle of the Atwater 18-yard box, which teammate Mario Valtierra immediately side volleyed. The junior’s balance and trajectory were slightly off, but his shot went straight at a Falcons defender and deflected back the other way. Ulloa lost his footing trying to abruptly change directions, and the ball slowly rolled across the line to make it 2-0 at intermission.
“They’re us from a year ago,” Atwater coach Jimmy Brewer said. “They have all that experience and confidence back from last season and a number of talented players. We have Jesuit (of Carmichael) coming in, and we’ll travel to the coast for a couple tournaments against a some teams we’ve never seen, but beyond that, that might be the best team we play all season.
“We showed some glimpses of what we can do, but it’s slow. The experience and confidence isn’t there, and so when the ball comes to guys they’re worried about if they’ll make the play instead of thinking a few moves ahead about what they’re going to do next. We’ll get there.”
There was improvement from Atwater within the game, doing a better job of possessing the ball and stringing together passes after the break. The Falcons couldn’t muster anything to trouble Jesus Lopez (one save) in the net, however.
Nevarez put away the contest in the 78th minute, chasing down a through ball from Luis Vargas down the right wing. Nevarez won the foot race with his defender, cut inside the box and unloaded a shot to the far post.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure. We just know we have a really strong team,” Nevarez said. “Some of us seniors still hurt from how last season ended, and that’s just made us more motivated to start this year. I’m really happy with this first game. Atwater’s one of the hardest teams on our nonconference schedule, so 3-0 is a great start.”