Men’s soccer preview: A foundation of togetherness

Monday, Aug. 20. The last weekend before the start of Rio Hondo College’s 2018 Fall Semester. In mid 90 degree weather, most students are enjoying their final friday afternoon of the summer in air conditioning. Not the Roadrunner’s men’s soccer team.

Nine months after losing to Santa Monica College in the first round of the 2017 Southern California Regional Playoffs, coach Orlando Brenes’ brigade are on the Rio Hondo soccer fields preparing for today’s 4 p.m. preseason opener against Clovis College a week prior.

Moments before the start of practice, the vibe of friendship and camaraderie stood out amongst the hoard of players arriving. Hand shakes all around and locker room banter filled the south end of the field.

Following a 2-1 loss to end their season last November, companionship between the team was something 20-year veteran coach Brenes knew he had to build up over the following months.

“We’re actually very close compared to last year.” Returning player and goalkeeper Jesus Rendon-Zavaleta, said about his time with the squad this offseason, “Last year we were more individual and didn’t really get to know each other. So I made it a goal in myself to make sure we get to know each other this year.”

It’s exactly what the young men did this summer as second year player Angel Flores, Most Valuable Player in 2016, mimicked Zavaleta. Flores, an attacking-midfielder, missed out on last season and redshirted but spoke about the squad he played with two years ago.

“We had a lot of good players,” the attacking midfielder said, “But no chemistry. But right now, during preseason, we’ve just been working hard and I see more than what I did two years ago.”

The vibe around the men’s soccer team is the brotherly type. A family.

Incoming freshman Jonathan De Jesus-Elias likened Brenes to blood. It’s Elias’ transitioning summer into college life and he mentioned how welcomed coach Brenes made him feel from day one.

“This is like my second home because I live in Pasadena so coming here with these people feels nice to me,” Elias said.

The demands of college soccer compared to high school has made the newcomers feel in a lot better shape since ending their senior seasons. The hard work these players have put in during the summer looks as the right foundation for the expectations coming in.

Winning a South Coast Conference title is objective no. 1 while making a run in playoffs is also a possibility.

Last season, the team went 4-3-1 in conference and finished third. This season, with a more technical approach in their style of play and a work-rate on the field that exceeds the opposition’s, achieving their goals should be possible.

After an underwhelming finish to last season, the group is ready to bounce back from a dismal conference performance and its quick playoff exit.

“I think we’re going to be a lot better this year than last year. We started really well and got ranked as high as third in the state but when season came around things started to falter,” said Brenes, remembering about last season. “There was dissension amongst the players and things that simply shouldn’t be going around. This year, the locker room cleaned up immensely.”