Jim Todd and his coaching staff are turning a positive into a negative.
Their East Union girls soccer team will be the first of four area squads to kick off the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs tonight at Patterson High, the No. 3 team out of the Western Athletic Conference.
The winner of the out-bracket match, which starts at 6:30, takes on SJS Division-IV tournament favorite Vista del Lago.
Sierra (14-3-5) will host WAC runner-up Livingston (13-3-1) in the first round next Tuesday. Also next Tuesday, Ripon High (10-6-3) opens with Mother Lode League No. 2 Summerville at home in Division V, while neighboring Ripon Christian hosts Forest Lake Christian in Division-VI play.
The Lancers (15-6-4) are coming off a disappointing 3-1 loss to rival Manteca High on the final night of the Valley Oak League season.
Todd thought his players lacked focus prior to kickoff and it showed on the pitch.
It was a lesson learned for a young team loaded with young talent. And Manteca, a playoff-caliber team that finished fifth in the front-loaded VOL, gave the Lancers a good look at what’s to come in the postseason.
“Sometimes a forest fire leads to more fertile ground,” Todd said. “When you get beaten you can use it profitably, so losing going into the playoffs isn’t always a bad thing.
“We didn’t play to our potential against Manteca and they did. They gave us a butt kicking and we probably needed that.”
Patterson (8-6-3) will have its hands full in trying to slow EU’s freshman tandem of Isela Rivera and Regina Dias. Rivera leads the area with 24 goals and 21 assists.
Patterson was a part of EU’s four-team, round-robin tournament in the preseason, but they didn’t play each other.
Senior Blanca Maldonado leads the Tigers with nine goals. They’ve relied more on defense for success this season, as they’ve given up more than two goals in a match just once.
“We got to watch them play a little bit,” Todd said. “We can’t downplay any opponent, so we’re taking it one game at a time.
“On any given day our girls can either be on or off. We worked hard the last few days, so hopefully we’re psyched for it.”
If East Union gets by Patterson and Vista del Lago, Sierra will likely be its semifinal opponent.
Vista del Lago (14-1-0) checks in with the best record in Division IV but was hardly tested in the Sierra Valley Conference.
The Eagles do have one notable victory — a 3-1 triumph in their non-league opener against Modesto’s Central Catholic (13-2-2), the WAC champion and overall No. 3 seed in the Division-IV bracket.
Central is paired up with SVC runner-up Cosumnes Oaks (8-4-4), while VOL champion Oakdale (17-2-4) faces SVC No. 3 Galt (9-5-6).
Powerhouse West Campus of Sacramento, the 2010 SJS Division-IV champion, now plays in D-V.
That’s bad news for Ripon, the two-time defending champ, and everyone else in the division.
The Indians had their four-year streak atop the Trans Valley League snapped this year but make their fifth straight postseason appearance. Summerville (13-5-4) should give them a stiff challenge, and the winner gets to square off with West Campus in the quarterfinals.
Ripon Christian (17-4-2) just completed its best season in recent memory but gets a tough first-round draw.
The Knights are facing a Forest Lake Christian squad that advanced to the Division VI finals four straight seasons and won two of them (2008, 2010). Bradshaw Christian, another favorite that has enjoyed recent postseason success, looms in the semifinal.