Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - July 8, 2011

Palo Alto soccer team earns No. 1 ranking in the nation

Boys' 18-U team heads to nationals as nation's best

by Keith Peters

Gunn High graduate Daniel Tirosh was only eight years old when he joined the Palo Alto Soccer Club's Blue 93 Panthers. Every year the team made steady progress, from being ranked among the top 50 in the nation to the top 10.

And now, to an even loftier status — No. 1.

"It's been a long time coming," Tirosh, now 18, said of his boys' 18-U club team's latest ranking by gotsoccer.com. "It's very cool. We've just slowly moved up over the years. It's quite a journey."

The Blue 93 Panthers earned the nation's top spot in their division after capturing the Far West Region tournament title on June 26 in Boise, Idaho. That gave them enough points to vault them past defending national champ Alpharetta Ambush 93 Red of Georgia.

"The ranking is based on points, but we're tying to prove it on the field," Tirosh said. "We need to win the national championship to prove ourselves."

The Blue 93 Panthers will get that opportunity when it competes in the national tournament that runs July 27-31 in Phoenix, Ariz. The Panthers will be tested right away by No. 2-ranked Alpharetta Ambush 93 Red in the opening round.

"We kind of like that because our team gets up for the big games," Tirosh said. "We figure we have to play them sometime, so why not right away?"

Tirosh, who will head off to UC Santa Cruz in the fall, said the national tournament will be like ending a chapter in his life.

"The national championship game is kind of like the climax of my childhood," he said. "After the tournament, our family will be going on vacation (to Hawaii) and then I'll be going off to college. Hopefully, we can end this chapter with a national title."

Palo Alto, the Northern California champion, qualified for the national tourney by winning the Far West Region title by beating state champs from Hawaii, Nevada and Utah in addition to beating the Southern California champ twice. The second win over the SoCal team came on penalty kicks in the regional championship match.

"Our coach (Rob Becerra) has always had two expectations before any game," said Gunn High senior Sam Hayward, one of only two current high school players on the team. "One, that we give 100 perfect effort and, two, that we win. We have all bought into our coach's system and it has worked to perfection.

"Before the regional final, our assistant coach B.J. Noble, who has helped us tremendously over the years, reminded us before that game that a leader is only as strong as the pack. To understand how our team operates, you could sort of compare us to a tightly knit mob, in that we know that the group's strength is far more important than any individual talent."

Hayward said the team had some extra motivation heading into the regional finale.

"We were all inspired to win at regionals, not only because we wanted that first-place prize, but because a few of our players had been injured recently and we all wanted them to play another game wearing a Palo Alto jersey."

The tourney title gave the Panthers a 33-2-3 record this season and a winning percentage of 86.8. Palo Alto has 21,187 points while the second-place Alpharetta Ambush 93 Red has 20,054. Those are the only club teams in the nation, in the 18-U division, that have won over 71 percent of their matches.

The Panthers have scored 103 goals in 38 matches while allowing 22. The team has won four major tournaments since last August — the Santa Clara Sporting Invitational, NorCal Cup, California North State Cup and the Regional IV championship. Palo Alto also was a finalist at the San Diego Surf College Cup.

"Basically the core of the team has been together since middle school and they play very well as a team, said John Raftrey, one of two team managers. "Nine different players scored at regionals; we don't really have a superstar."

Some of the players will be playing in college this fall: Riley Hanley (Mountain View) at St Mary's; Mackie Kelly (Mountain View) and Zac Hummel (Palo Alto) at UC Santa Cruz; Mark Raftrey (Palo Alto) at Pomona College; Grahame Fitz (Summit Prep) at University of Redlands; and Miguel Vazquez (Half Moon Bay) at Notre Dame du Namur. Jose Mendoza is already at UNLV and Fernando Salazar at Foothill.

Other team members include Trevor Assaf (Crystal Springs grad), Cameron McElfresh (current Gunn), Andrew Wohl (Gunn grad), Yatam Kasznik (Gunn grad), Juan Gamez (Mission, S.F., grad), Ian Leung (St. Francis grad), Even Coutre (St. Francis grad), A.J. Beloff (Carlmont grad) and Ricky Minno (Palo Alto grad).

"To be on this team for nine years, and to have most of our success come at the very end of our team's run, could not feel any sweeter," Hayward said. "Our motivation to improve has always been very high and, although we went through a real rough patch a few years back, we never had any doubt that we could one day be the best team in the country."

In addition to the talented coaches the team has had over the years, team managers John Raftrey and Gal Tirosh also have made a big contribution.

"John Raftrey and Gal Tirosh have always been there for the team and are really the two architects behind everything that we have accomplished," said Hayward. "Nothing would be possible today without these two masterminds working the strings behind the scenes."

The Panthers will spend the next few weeks training at the Cubberley Community Center while preparing for the national championships.

"All of us are proud to represent the City of Palo Alto, a city a lot of us have grown up in our whole life," Hayward said. "We have not always been the most athletic, the strongest, or the most technically skilled team but our commitment to one another has always been there. We all back one another up and, more importantly, believe in one another.

"Looking at most of our players you wouldn't expect us to ever reach this far," continued Hayward. "Lots of us were not recruited heavily and no one really stands out on the team as a superstar. But, combine our strengths, competitive attitudes, and desire to be the best, and you have one unstoppable team. To be No. 1 in the nation is a stellar feeling. But, it doesn't mean much at this point since we still have four games to go to prove to everyone that we deserve it."

Comments

Posted by ED, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 27, 2011 at 10:11 pm

This article is a complete nonsense, This team is combined from a the old, so so Palo Alto Blue with the Hispanic team called the black Panther which was combined by two coaches [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
The Palo Alto Team never had any achievements, only with the best of the BP they did. The BP was an excellent team with a very low budget from a poverty area in SF. The best players on this team are from the BP, not from Palo Alto (Jose, and Juan). This is a trend seen clearly in the Bay Area where Hispanic kids are the best. There coaching of the Hispanic kids usually sucks, as no money is been put in. In Palo Alto there is allot of money put into the white American player and the results are mediocre.
The words about together, and strategy how they got there is complete nonsense. It is a simple combination of kids that there dads, are in high tech and business, and kids to illegal immigrants from Mexico who happen to play soccer well. There is no question that the current coach knows how to coach, but this is the reason soccer in the US basically gets nowhere. The base is narrow, after combining teams and winning championships, you need a large base in order to have the national team on top. The writer should have stated that this is a combined team and in the first 11 there are at least 3 players that have never been on this team, maybe more. (I mentioned two).


Posted by SOCAJO, a resident of another community
on Jul 27, 2011 at 11:36 pm

Sounds like the trend these days is for Coaches and Managers in youth soccer is to scout for kids from other teams when they play them. That is how most of the successful teams like the Palo Alto team get to the top. I know it's not from years of hard work that a team like this is built from the ground up. And just like Ed mentioned above, this happens in every part of the country. Players who have never played on a team before suddenly get drafted so that the team can be successful. If any Coach or Manager has drafted players from other teams to make their team more competitive just when they will be playing more competitive teams, and on their way to the championship SHAME ON THEM! That trophy is worthless because you did not earn it fairly. I have been a very successful youth soccer coach for 16 years and I can proudly say that my team's success came with honesty and dignity. I was a role model for the kids I coached. As long a they gave it their best and had fun, the win was icing on the cake!!!


Posted by Soccer Fan, a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 28, 2011 at 2:11 am

This is very true with De Anza Force Soccer club as well. No one is building the players from ground up. Instead of training their own players, they get the players from outside. This is an easy way for coaches and clubs to get ready made success in competitive soccer world.


Posted by Sports Politics, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 28, 2011 at 3:01 am

ED, thanks for the truth. Although I disagree that Hispanics are superior athletes, coaches in all sports are scouting these days.


Posted by Johnny Knoxville, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jul 28, 2011 at 9:06 am

Every team adds players and every team evolves. The difference is that Palo Alto was not Sporting, Juventus or De Anza... Where did Juventus Monarcas and Sporting go? What did they end up achieving? With all the State Cup championship and recruiting tools that were used by their coaches, it is amazing and truly remarkable Palo Alto stuck together and won, not one, but two State Cups Championships

Ed and SOCAJO are just upset that they did not accomplish what PABP have. Perhaps they are players or parents of close rivals. I am proud to know some of the players on this team. Good coaching, good players and hard work always pay off.


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