De Anza Force didn't exactly get off to a winning start this season, nor was it losing. Problem was, the team was allowing nearly as many goals as it was scoring against under-15/16 U.S. Soccer Development Academy competition.
"At the beginning, we were a little unorganized, and we still had to figure some things out on the defensive end," said Gil Simonetti, whose Santa Clara, Calif.-based squad tied its season-opener, 4-4, with the LA Galaxy.
De Anza Force allowed eight goals over the course of its first three games, going 1-0-2 during that time.
"A lot of that had to do with the positioning, becoming more aware," said Simonetti, a high school junior, team captain and central defender. "We've really taken a look at our game I.Q. and tactically, we've been a lot better."
The program adjusted and has outscored its past five opponents, 14-3, with two shutouts for a Northwest Division-leading record of 2-0 and an overall West Conference mark of 5-0-3.
Simonetti and back line mate Geoffrey Dunn are among those who have closed the door defensively in front of goalie Sal Valencia-Martinez.
"I've played with Geoffrey since last year, so we have a good chemistry on the field, and with our outside backs, Kamron Crow and Brandon Gillingham, we've begun to learn their tendancies," Simonetti said. "Kamron's on the right side, and Brandon's on the left. As the season progressed, we've adapted."
Scoring never was an issue for De Anza Force, which sandwiched ties of 4-4 and 3-3 against the LA Galaxy and the Arsenal FC around a 2-1 triumph over Chivas USA to start the season.
"Early on, we knew that we had a dangerous team going forward. We spent quite a few training sessions on how we want to attack and what formation was best for our group, and we needed to make a transition to focusing on our defending," said De Anza Force coach Shaun Tsakaris.
"We needed to look at how we were going to defend as a group, and not just our back four. What parts of the field and what parts of the game?"
Tsakaris credits much of the defensive improvement to the unselfish play of Shane Luna and Sam Olson, who have "solidified our center midfield."
"Those two guys play center midfield and holding mids, and they've been very good for us. We've focused on their positioning since we had let so many goals go in the first couple of games," Tsakaris said.
"I think that when you get the results that we've had, the kids start to respond and it makes it a lot easier when you have their ear and they're buying into what we're asking of them and what we're selling."
That includes players such as Simonetti and Dunn.
"Although those two have been solid, I credit our teams' attitude toward defending as a group that focuses on working together. The style we play, formations sometimes change, but the attitude toward the game never does," Tsakaris said.
"We want the ball. We want it at our feet. We want to try and play as much as possible. Its very hard to dominate the match without the ball in our possession. This is why we have really targeted defending and getting that ball back as soon as possible."
The scoring has not suffered either.
Forward Jason Romero leads the squad with eight goals, followed by front line mates Aravind Sivakumar and Joseph Bolous with three goals each.
The rest of the scoring scattered throughout the line up. Forwards Aryha Haghighi and Ramiro Molina have two goals, with one goal each from forwards Skyler Felt and Ranier Plantinos and midfielder Michael Shin.
The run couldn't have come at a better time for De Anza Force, whose next game, against their division rival the Seattle Sounders (1-1-1, 3-2-2) on Nov. 19, will be against a team that is experiencing some momentum of its own.
The Sounders are 2-1-1, with three shutouts over the past four games.
"Seattle is one of the teams I would like to model how professional they are. Every time that we've played them in the past couple of years, they've been extremely disciplined and a dangerous team if you allow them to be," Tsakaris said.
"How are we going to play them? I don't want to change too many things, simply because we have become a dangerous team, and I'm happy with where our boys are right now."
Led by Jalen Markey with three goals, and Isdro Prada-Huerta and Michael Steele with two goals each, the Sounders are coming off a 3-0 divisional win over Cal Odyssey (2-1, 3-5).
"Going into a game like Seattle, they'll be very organized and disciplined, and I'm predicting that they will be hard to break down," Tsakaris said. "I don't want to adapt too much, but it should be fun to watch, because we like to attack, and I think that they do too."
This past weekend's top Academy goal scorers:
3, Logan Magonigal, California Development Academy in 3-0 win over Strikers FC
2, Kyle Bjomethun, Seattle Sounders in 3-0 win over Cal Odyssey
2, Elisama Padilla, San Jose Earthquakes in 3-2 win over Crossfire Premiere
2, Gabriel Cano, Andromeda FC in 3-3 tie with Texas Rush
2, Terry Delancy, Lonestar SC in 6-0 win over Classics Elite
2, Hamza Haddadi, Crossfire Premier in 3-1 win over Cal Odyssey
2, Alfredo Gallegos, Texas Rush in 3-3 tie with Andromeda FC