The562’s season previews for the 2022-23 school year are sponsored by Vertical Raise, the official team fundraising partner of The562.
The562’s soccer coverage for the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Beach Futbol Club.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Poly alum Jayon Brown and PlayFair Sports Management.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by JuJu Smith-Schuster and the JuJu Foundation.
No Moore League boys’ soccer team had a better run over the final eight weeks of last season than the Poly Jackrabbits. After a 1-0 loss at Wilson on Dec. 15–a loss that largely decided last year’s title race in the Bruins’ favor–the runner-up Jackrabbits went unbeaten in their final 13 regular-season contests, posting a record of 8-0-5 and ending the regular season with four consecutive clean sheets.
Now in year six for head coach Eric Leon, Poly will look to climb back to the top of the Moore League ladder. The Jackrabbits won consecutive outright league championships for the first time in program history in 2020 and 2021, and this year’s group is determined to get back to that spot. The key, says Leon, is how tight-knit this group is, particularly in the senior class.
“Every year I have talented seniors, but it’s not every year that you have a group of talented seniors,” explained Leon. “This group literally played together since they were freshmen, so I think familiarity is going to be one of the biggest characteristics that is going to help us because they are friends on and off the field. That’s one of the things that can help us out this year is that familiarity with one another, and accountability. Because with familiarity comes accountability.”
One of the key leaders in that senior group is goalkeeper Amir Diaz-Espinoza, a stalwart in the Poly goal who is a vocal leader for the Jackrabbits’ defense. He feels the chemistry on this team is improved from last year’s squad, and their familiarity dates back well before their high school careers.
“It hasn’t just started at Poly. It started since we were five or six playing together in city leagues, and now we’ve got that chemistry finally coming together,” Diaz-Espinoza said. “We all know each other inside and out and we all just complement each other really well. Before one gets the ball, they already know what they’re gonna do, so I think that’ll be our biggest strength this year.”
The defenders in front of goal will be senior heavy with key returners Roque Alvarez, Anner Aguilar, Victor Kagurabadza, and Lucas Scott. That back line not only has a ton of playing experience, it also has good size and skill to help the Jackrabbits play out from the back and create scoring opportunities in a multitude of ways.
“Size is always good, but another thing we bring is technical ability,” Diaz-Espinoza explained. “We don’t just want a big hunk of meat who can get the ball, we want a guy who can put it on the ground and I think that complements our play style really well. We can bring it out from the back, if we need to go long we can go long, we can play short one-twos, we can do it all.”
Offensively, Leon is high on junior Anthony Martinez, who brings a valuable combination of aggressiveness and skill. He’ll be flanked by a pair of speedy wingers in seniors Kevin Herejon and Josh Cholico.
“Those guys can just run with the best of them, they could probably run track. Well, you know, maybe not at Poly,” Leon says with a laugh, showing deference to the elite track program at 1600 Atlantic. “But they definitely have some good speed and that’s going to be one of the biggest positives for our team is our pace down the lines.”
With so many veterans ready to contribute, it’s going to be a tough lineup to crack, but Leon is high on 10th grader Roberto Bermudez in the midfield. With a big, floppy head of hair he’ll be easy to spot when he’s on the pitch, and Leon is excited to see what he can do with his first extended run of varsity soccer.
“The kid can play,” said Leon of Bermudez. “He's a sophomore, so I don't think he's realized like ‘Yeah, you're gonna play, bro.’ He’s gonna be the guy in the midfield for us as a sophomore. He came up last year for CIF and got some minutes in the game that we lost, but his number is gonna get called this year. And called often. He's one of the younger players that his shoulders are going to be loaded this year, so I'm excited for him.”
The Jackrabbits know they’re in for another tough battle for Moore League supremacy, while also looking to parlay that into some playoff success in either Division 1 or 2. Postseason wins have been tough to come by in recent years for Long Beach’s soccer teams, but Leon isn’t ducking any challenges. He wants Poly to be considered a top program in the area and put his team up against the very best at the end of the season.
“I think with the new division format, the opportunities are there for a lot of schools like us to make some deeper runs in the playoffs,” Leon admitted. “But nevertheless, our goal is to remain in D1. Our goal as a group is to try to get into that 16-team bracket in D1 and compete with the best. If we take care of business in our preseason games and hopefully win league, I think we'll have a good opportunity to be one of those Top 16 teams.”
Poly will open its season on Nov. 28 against Hart, and will have some tough tests in the non-league schedule including road games against San Clemente (Dec. 2), Los Alamitos (Dec. 23), and Warren (Dec. 27). The Jackrabbits will also need to contend with a tough trio of league games in mid-December, going to Cabrillo (Dec.14) before hosting Jordan (Dec. 16) and Millikan (Dec. 21) early in their schedule.