Screenshot 2024-02-23 at 5.32.18 PM
Lakewood Soccer

FEATURE: Michael Gutierrez A Fearless Leader For Lakewood Boys’ Soccer

The562’s coverage of Lakewood Athletics is sponsored by J.P. Crawford, Class of 2013.

“Come on, you can’t score on me. Come on, shoot it!”

That’s how Alberto Gutierrez taught his four children to play soccer— standing in front of a small backyard goal with the ball at the boys’ feet. And Alberto didn’t just let them score. They had to earn it.

“I was raised to not be scared of anything, and to always push myself and take on challenges,” said Michael Gutierrez.

As the oldest of the Gutierrez boys, soccer has been an integral part of Michael’s relationship with his family. It’s how he spent time with his dad while growing up and it’s how he spent time with his brothers when he had to babysit. Now he’s an integral part of Lakewood’s historic run back to a CIF Southern Section championship game.

Gutierrez is one of the best strikers in the area with five goals in four playoff games this month, and he’ll try to score the Lancers a Division 4 title win on Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The Lancers will face Etiwanda. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.

“He’s just built differently,” said Lakewood coach Alex Diaz. “He’s a true 9 who is strong, fast, smart, very technical and really dangerous going one on one. It doesn’t surprise me at all what he’s been doing all year.”

Starting as a freshman and scoring more than 20 goals last season was a surprise to Gutierrez, but it gave him the confidence to be an influence on every facet of a game. Just like his hero growing up, Christiano Ronaldo.

“I guess he was my inspiration,” said Gutierrez of Ronaldo. “He has really good shot power and he just can take on anybody like no one could stop him. That’s the type of player I wanted to be.”

That is the type of player he is as Gutierrez has scored a few goals where he collects the ball on the wing and drives directly at defenders and the goal. It makes sense because he was playing as a wing with his Beach FC club team until a recent move to Slammers FC where he’s learned to hold the ball up by using his natural strength. Some of that was built with repetition in the backyard just taking shot after shot with his family.

“The more practice you get striking the ball like that the stronger your leg will get, and the harder the shot,” said Gutierrez.

Monthly Subscribers to The562

By The562 Network Inc

His physical strength came naturally, but Gutierrez has also developed as a person and a teammate.

“(Last year) I would talk to him and he would just give me one-word answers or just nod his head yes or no,” said Diaz of Gutierrez. “But now he’s come along asking questions. He has a good head on his shoulders and he’s super humble and relaxed.”

It’s not a coincidence that the maturation of Gutierrez has happened as the entire Lakewood boys’ soccer program has gone through the same thing.

“It’s team bonding,” said Diaz. “There were times we’d train later at night because we had to share the field, so we would bring food to the classroom or play some soccer tennis… They were just finding things to get along with. It was just everybody being in the same boat.”

That included off the field challenges like the death of a family member or friend, and that’s happened to multiple Lancers players over the last year.

“We’re close because we’ve all had that happen where someone passed away, and us just talking about it together brings us closer and makes us open up more,” said Gutierrez. “It makes it like a family. We’re close.”

“This group feels so united,” added Diaz. “They trust each other.”

That camaraderie and care has been shown every time Gutierrez scores and the entire Lakewood bench empties in celebration and meets him at the corner flag.

“It feels good,” said Gutierrez of celebrating with his teammates. “Well, it does and it doesn’t because they’re all smacking your head and it hurts.”

Lakewood and Gutierrez hope there’s plenty of reasons to smack his head on Saturday.

JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.