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Long Beach Poly Soccer

PREVIEW: Long Beach Poly Boys’ Soccer

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly is sponsored by Bryson Financial.

A roller coaster of a season saw the Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits endure some difficult stretches, but also reach some memorable highs in the 2022-23 campaign.

Their storybook run to the CIF-SS Division 2 title game will live on in Poly Soccer lore, and head coach Eric Leon is hoping to build off his team’s postseason success. These Jackrabbits will need to replace a slew of veterans, including senior captain Amir Diaz-Espinoza, who was the heart and soul of the Jackrabbits and their last line of defense in goal.

Leon says that despite coming up short against San Clemente, the Jackrabbits are feeling confident after their run to the title game, and there’s enough returning talent to make them dangerous once again.

“The vibes are very positive,” said Leon of this year’s group. “Obviously we’re still kind of emotionally distraught, but happy at the same time about last year’s results. Our senior class was very strong last year, and there’s no replacing a player like Amir, but what’s good about the way we have our program set up at Poly is we do have a deep senior class almost every year … I know that we have a team that can compete any given day with the best of the best, and we can definitely make another go at last year’s run.”

This year’s roster has a double-digit senior class, which will provide plenty of contributors all over the field. They’ll be supplemented by some standout juniors and sophomores who Leon believes are ready to shine at the varsity level.

The Jackrabbits will be strong in the midfield, led by the duo of senior Steve Marquez and junior Roberto Bermudez. They complement one another well in the middle of the pitch and are expected to win the ball and orchestrate an aggressive Poly attack. 

“Those guys are a deadly duo,” Leon said of Marquez and Bermudez. “They’ve been playing club with one another for over 10 years, and they just understand each other well. So we’re going to rely heavily on them.”

Senior Steve Marquez brings experience and leadership to the Poly midfield.

Marquez was asked to spend time at striker last season, but has moved back to a more comfortable spot in the attacking midfield. He’s got a great combination of size and skill which will help create scoring chances for the Jackrabbits. He believes this team will take confidence from how last season ended, but says they’re starting as a more cohesive unit this time around.

“I think it has to do with a lot of our players’ mentality. A lot of us have been through high levels of soccer as kids, and we would win a lot, so we carry that over,” said Marquez. “Last year, we didn’t really know what our play style was. I think we ended up finding ourselves during CIF, but this year you can see it in training, everything is just a different mentality going into it. Everybody’s competitive, everybody wants to win, and I think that’s gonna carry over to the game.”

Bermudez showed his playmaking abilities as a sophomore last season, and Poly will have a few more newcomers joining the attack. Senior striker Anthony Martinez Urrutia made his long-awaited debut in last year’s quarterfinals, and Leon is looking forward to having a full season from his No. 9. But the Jackrabbits are also eager to see the development of sophomore Damian Gonzalez, who scored a postseason goal in his brief debut for Poly a year ago.

“This kid is special, man,” said Leon of his sophomore forward. “This kid Damian Gonzalez has the itch; he’s a goalscoring machine. He just scores goals. I’m excited for him, he’s a big presence on the field.”

That reworked attack will be a focal point for the Jackrabbits this season, as they hope to keep the ball, generate chances, and take pressure off their defense. But ultimately, games are won with goals, not just time of possession, and Leon wants his team to be more creative in how they generate scoring chances.

“We are a team that likes to possess the ball, likes to be very technical with the ball, and that can be our Kryptonite at times,” Leon admitted. “That could be the reason why we don’t get the results that we want, because we’re too stubborn in our ways offensively. But I do want to let these guys play with freedom and creativity. So I think that’s the biggest point for us is trying to create a variety of ways that we can beat teams. I’m an advocate of the best defense is a good offense, and at times that can bite me in the butt, but for the most part I have the team to do it.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Jackrabbits will be anchored by defensive mids Favio Lopez and Noah Ramirez–both seniors who saw playing time last season. On the back line, junior Felix Rivera returns at center back and classmate Logan Herejon is at left back.

In goal, the Jackrabbits have big boots to fill and Leon isn’t sure who will be the one to do it just yet. Poly used a three-man rotation during the summer and it remains a battle between seniors Ivan Urzua and Adrian Bernal, along with sophomore Rey Alvarado. Leon said he’ll work all three keepers into the rotation and hopes to have a clear starter once the second half of league play rolls around.

Despite being the youngest in the competition, Alvarado will get his fair chance to earn playing time and Leon said he may be the early favorite to start, but some healthy competition waits inside the Poly goal this season.

Boys’ soccer continues to have the most parity of any of the Moore League sports, so the Jackrabbits should be consistently tested in the season ahead. And as they proved last season, a third place team has the ability to play for a CIF championship if everything comes together at the right time. 

With a solid core of returning talent, and a little extra confidence and cohesion, the Jackrabbits are hoping to add one more playoff win for their 2024 encore.

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Tyler Hendrickson
Tyler Hendrickson was born and raised in Long Beach, and started covering sports in his hometown in 2010. After five years as a sportswriter, Tyler joined the athletic department at Long Beach State University in 2015. He spent more than four years in the athletic communications department, working primarily with the Dirtbags baseball program. Tyler also co-authored of The History of Long Beach Poly: Scholars & Champions.