Mark Johnson couldn't have been happier with the way his Salesian High School boys' soccer team performed in the first half of their Southern California Regional Championship title-game clash Saturday.
He even used the “B” word. As in “Barcelona.”
“That's what we talk about,” Johnson said after the Mustangs captured their third Division III regional title in four seasons with 4-1 romp over San Diego's Francis Parker at Warren High School in Downey. “When we got to the half, we said, 'You know, we played like Barcelona that half. Let's keep it up.”
Salesian (19-3-4) did keep it up, dominating their bigger foes with a possession game that led to dozens of chances.
Salesian, which has played in all four Division III finals and is the only school with more than one regional championship, went ahead on an eighth-minute own goal (with Parker's Patrick Barba superbly heading Jose Avila's free kick into his net), built a 3-0 advantage on strikes by David Manrique in the 27th and Giovanni Reynaga in the 43rd, then capped the triumph with Ricardo Cardenas' 60th-minute finale.
“We knew if we kept the ball on the ground and played our style of soccer, that we could take over the game, and I think from start to finish we really did that ...,” said Johnson, who guided Salesian to the Southern Section Division 4 semifinals this season after winning three of the previous four Division 5 championships. “We lost a lot from last year's [regional winner], and I think at the beginning of the season we didn't expect to be back here, but we kept getting better and better as the year wore on.
“Today I thought we played some of our best soccer of the season.”
They did so missing two starters, with only two seniors in the first XI and with diminutive playmaker Gerardo Soto -- “One of the best talents I've ever coached,” Johnson says -- off the field much of the match with an injury. Both forwards and the entire starting defense will be back next year, and three starting backs return again the following season.
“It looks like the future will be bright, but we take it year to year …,” Johnson said. “I always say I've got one of the easiest coaching jobs in soccer, because I've got so much talent on my team every year. All that talent really adds up and makes us a really dominant team.”
In all, Southern Section teams won four of six regional titles, with San Diego schools capturing the other two. Since the first regional tournaments were held in 2008, Southern Section schools have won 18 of 24 championships.
In another final Saturday:
GIRLS DIVISION I
Torrey Pines (San Diego) 5, Bullard (Fresno) 2
UCLA-bound forward Kylie McCarthy scored four goals and Katherine Trees converted a penalty kick for her 28th goal of the season as the Falcons (23-2-4) gave the San Diego Section its first Division I title, boys or girls.
McCarthy scored in the seventh, 37th, 52nd and 56th minutes as Torrey Pines, San Diego's Division I champ, overcame two first-half deficits after defensive miscues provided Central Section champ Bullard (25-4-1) third- and 27th-minute goals.