After weeks of evaluation, East Union soccer coach Victor Polanco says he has selected his starting 11 for next week’s Valley Oak League opener.
Which 11 crack the lineup against Lathrop on Thursday remains to be seen.
If the first-year girls coach has learned anything about his team, it’s this: He’s got options.
Plenty of them, too.
Polanco put the full breadth of his roster on display on Friday evening during a 1-0 victory over Tracy, a perennial Sac-Joaquin Section playoff contender.
While other coaches might have played it safe with a 1-0 lead, Polanco used his entire bench, changing out key players at every level of the field, including goalie.
“Some of them can play a lot of positions and it’s very helpful,” said Polanco, who guided the East Union boys team to a 3-14-4 record in the fall. “I can move them back to front or front to back. They’ve got the message and it’s working really good.”
Isabella Cardenas scored the game’s only goal, a rocket shot from 25 yards out in the 45th minute.
Freshman Ilena Rivera, the youngest of three sisters, earned the assist. She intercepted a throw by Tracy goalie Jill Finney and found Cardenas’ foot with a header.
Cardenas spun inside on her defender, setting up her right-footed blast. The attack caught Finney well off her goal line. She pawed at the ball but was otherwise helpless against the long-distance strike.
“This was our last game for the preseason and now we move forward,” Polanco said. “I already have my first 11 to start, and I’m looking forward to starting league.”
Good luck scouting this bunch, Lathrop.
The Lancers are fast, athletic, disciplined and most of all, deep. Friday’s match was as much a showcase of their versatility as their talent.
Consider these points:
u Two prominent offensive players a season ago – Cardenas and all-league midfielder Marissa King – began the game as outside fullbacks.
In Polanco’s system, the outside backs are asked to attack like midfielders. That’s how Cardenas found her scoring opportunity on Friday. King also had a few first-half chances.
“I want that when we have the ball; the whole team has to push up, especially my wings,” said Polanco, whose club owned an 11-2 shot advantage and didn’t allow Tracy a clean look until the 57th minute.
“Bella is a very athletic girl; she’s very strong. She has my confidence to go up.”
u Point No. 2: East Union’s senior captains – Meghan Wallace and Regina Dias – saw limited minutes, and neither one was on the field when the Lancers broke the scoreless tie.
Dias missed all of last season after tearing the ligaments in her knee during the final VOL game of her sophomore year.
“She’s the leader on and off the field,” Polanco said. “It means a lot for me and the girls to have her back.”
u Point No. 3 and probably the scariest omen for the rest of the Valley Oak League: East Union manhandled Tracy – a team that overpowered Oakdale in its opener – with its best player in street clothes.
San Jose State-bound forward Isela Rivera sat out the game after suffering a concussion in a win over Lincoln of Stockton.
When healthy, Isela Rivera is the Valley Oak League’s most dangerous player. She was its MVP in 2011 after netting 29 goals and 15 assists.
She and her sister, junior midfielder Isabella Rivera, sat out last spring.
Polanco says the return of the Rivera sisters has allowed him to move other players around the field, creating mismatches.
“I love having them out there. I can use them everywhere,” he said. “They can play anywhere on the field, so I’ve given them the freedom to attack and defend.”
East Union is searching for its second VOL title in three seasons. The Lancers finished behind only Kimball in the final league table last spring, but still earned the No.1 seed for the Division IV playoffs.
They were eventually bounced by Colfax at home in the semifinal round, 2-1.
“Our goal is to not only be the best team in league,” Polanco said, “but compete at the sections.”