Traditionally there’s been one or two star forwards leading the Millikan boys’ soccer team when the Rams are battling for the top spot in the Moore League or winning CIF Southern Section playoff games.
That was the case last year when local teams struggled to slow down Moore League Co-Most Valuable Player of the Year Jesus Moreno and Co-Offensive Player of the Year Isaac Chavez. Those goal scorers have graduated, leaving second-year coach Jeff Schofield to create new ways for his team to build an offensive attack.
“Our hope is that we can beat teams in a variety of ways with the different weapons we have,” Schofield said. “We’re deeper this year. On one hand, you can say that’s a bad thing because you don’t have a super star. But on the other hand, now other teams can’t just key on somebody and try to stop one player. They have to deal with everybody.”
Senior Anton Moore, junior David Villanueva and sophomore Jacob Chavez will be the top picks to start up top for the Rams. Moore is a returner who logged a lot of minutes last year while scoring some important goals in league play. Chavez is the younger brother of Isaac, and Villanueva is playing his first year of Varsity.
“All three of those guys can beat defenders off the dribble and have the pace to get in behind,” Schofield said. “We want to play a pretty high tempo style. We want to press defensively and play pretty quickly. We’ve got some guys who can take players on.”
The Millikan midfield is full of experience with seniors Samani Villanueva, Pierre Khoury and Heath Pablico all returning. Pablico, who will play both midfield and defense, is the only Rams player who made All-League first team last season.
“Our chemistry and fluidity within the team has been pretty stellar,” Pablico said. “There’s a lot of guys who can get it done.”
Defense is the biggest question mark for Millikan with right back Connor McCoy (pictured) serving as the anchor after playing almost every game last season. Junior Jalen Segal and others are fighting for the other starting spots.
Schofield has another good problem to have in goal where senior Byron Hernandez has returned after serving as the backup keeper last season. Sophomores Riley Cabarles and Diego Ramirez have also been working out with the Varsity squad all offseason, and all three might end up seeing time as the Rams goalkeeper this season.
Despite the new faces filling important positions, the large group of seniors on the roster have created a built-in chemistry. It also means Schofield doesn’t have to choose single captains because multiple players have the trust of their teammates necessary to lead. That has created a better practice environment.
“It was hard to build that comradery last year with all the restrictions,” Schofield said. “It was officially my first year in charge and it was just really a challenge with the way practices had to be run and how little you got to see the players. This year we’ve been able to push them because they’ve been training with their clubs and they’re fit.”
Millikan has a packed non-league schedule with stops at the Huntington Beach Tournament and South Torrance Tournament. It also includes marquee games against Los Alamitos and Servite. Schofield thinks playing teams like that in the preseason will help his Rams perform in the postseason. Millikan is one of three Moore League teams in CIF-SS Division 1.
“Some of it is about the mastic,” Schofield said. “Servite, for example, has so much buzz around them right now. So it’s mentally going in there and knowing you can compete with them. I don’t think the gap is that large between them and us. We have good enough players. Obviously they have some inherent advantages in terms of facility, staff and financial support. But we’ve been a successful program for a long time and we have a lot of good players. I think we can be competitive. In a game like soccer you can always find a way to pull out a win if you believe you can and keep working.”
Millikan hasn’t won the league title since 2018 when it went back to back. The Rams had won eight consecutive league titles from 2008-15 and won a CIF championship in 2012. Millikan was one result away from grabbing a share of the league title last season, and Pablico knows what it takes to be successful.
“Consistency is key,” Pablico said. “As you could tell from last year we were a little inconsistent at the end of the year. So we’ve been working hard in practice and keeping that same level of energy.”