By Scott J. French
Photo credit: Kevin Sullivan
ANAHEIM — Servite struggled to turn chances into something more meaningful through the first half of its boys soccer season-opener Friday afternoon, but the whole of the Friars' play – the heady pace, tight shape and expert defensive spacing – spoke to their dominance over a game Saddleback side.
The something more arrived just after the break, with Kyle Pearce's goal six minutes into the second half and two more from Brett Lux's deliveries on corner kicks not long after, and Servite cruised to an impressive 3-1 triumph in a battle of longtime Orange County powerhouses.
Cade Fuller and Chad Sinclair scored off the corners for the Friars, who looked very good in their first official match since dropping, as the No. 1 seed, their opener in last season's CIF Southern Section playoffs.
Saddleback (2-2-0) impressed, too, especially with Gilberto Garcia on the ball in central midfield, but the speed of Servite's play took the Roadrunners out of their game, and they struggled to penetrate inside the attacking third.
"We're still early in our process," said Servite coach Jon Spencer, who was missing five players who were away with club commitments. "We've been trying to work on our overall game plan ... and I was happiest with how our team kept pretty good spacing collectively and that we were defensively very solid."
The Friars might have scored a goal or two in the first half but for big defensive plays by Misael Lopez and Edson Godinez. Halftime adjustments, with greater aggression in the attack, paid off quickly.
Center back Zuriel Silva's long ball up the right wing found Fuller, and Saddleback goalkeeper Alexis Lopez hesitated before coming off his line to challenge. Once he did, Fuller chipped the ball toward the net, and Pearce raced in to — unnecessarily, it appeared — head it home.
Fuller got his goal in the 59th minute, sneaking behind the Roadrunners' defense to volley home Lux's far-post serve, and Servite tallied on its next corner kick, too, four minutes later, with Chad Sinclair nodding the ball home.
Lux, last season's Trinity League defensive MVP, was superb all afternoon, a driving force of the Friars' attack and a defensive standout while playing at left back in the first half and right back after halftime.
Jose Lemus scored near the end for Saddleback, a brilliant shot from outside the box to the lower-right corner.
The Friars have been among Southern California's best prep teams for some time and have won five straight Trinity League titles, but the postseason losing streak stands at three since the 2015 Division 1 championship. To get where they want to be — another Trinity crown and postseason success — they are "going to have to put in a lot of work," Spencer said.
"(The Trinity League) is a strong league, there's no guarantees there," he added. "We've got to stay hungry."
Saddleback, a Division 4 team, has similar aspirations, and head coach Mel Silva said facing Servite will aid in that push.
"I wanted to challenge my guys with a strong game, the kind we're going to face in the playoffs," he said. "It was a good test for us, and I'm not satisfied with the loss, but I'm coming away pretty pleased with my players. I think there's something to work with there."