Last year, Long Beach Poly won its second consecutive Moore League boys’ soccer championship for just the second time in school history. This year, the Jackrabbits are going for a three-peat for the first time ever, and head coach Eric Leon is fired up for the opportunity.
“We’re eager to get started,” he said. “We have a good group of guys coming back from last year’s Moore League championship team and we’re excited. The target on our backs got a little bit bigger from last year and we know we’re going to see the best from everyone.”
It won’t be easy–the last time anyone in the Moore League besides Millikan three-peated was 30 years ago, when Wilson wrapped up a string of five consecutive titles in 1991.
The reason for Leon’s optimism is a strong returning core for the Jackrabbits.
“I think this is the best group that I’ve had in a few years coming back this year,” said Leon.
Returning Moore League MVP Omar Juarez and David Huerta are a tremendous 1-2 punch up top as offensive threats, and the midfield is strong with returning second-team All-Moore League player Luke Scott and Jonathan Flores will be the other holding mid.
Defensively, the Jackrabbits lost both of last year’s center backs, but Leon feels his back line is actually better this year with captain Christian Mendoza and Roque Alvarez playing the center back positions.
“They’re both very athletic and they both have offers from college,” he said. Left and right back will see Kevin Herejon and Anner Aguilar filling out the rest of the back line. Goalie Amir Diaz Espinoza is another returning all-league player for Poly.
The Jackrabbits have a challenging nonleague schedule that includes Cathedral, Mission Viejo, Corona del Mar, San Clemente, and others to prepare them for the Moore League gauntlet. Leon is happy to see the success so many other teams have had over the past few years, as boys’ soccer has become one of the city’s strongest sports.
Leon is not a Poly alum, but he speaks about the school romantically. He said that COVID-19 really drove home for him how special his team was.
“COVID hit right when we were planning our banquet, and so I literally drove to every kid’s house to deliver their certificates and end of year stuff,” he said. Leon found himself in some of the city’s richest neighborhoods, and some of its poorest.
“It was a good reminder,” he said. “It humbled me. All these kids from different backgrounds have come together and meshed, and they’ve won together.”
Leon is an Artesia grad who coached his alma mater, and then departed to take over at Irvine High, but left that job before he began it because the Poly job opened up and he felt called to the position.
“I thrive on an underdog title, I know all of Poly’s history but that boys’ soccer didn’t have a lot of it,” he said. “One of the happiest things for me is knowing I helped bring a different culture here, one that revolves around accountability and a family-like atmosphere. Talent comes in and out of Poly every year, it just needed the right person to steer the ship.”