Prep boys soccer: Keeper rotation pays off for East
East's two-act play is commanded by two stars.
Goalkeeper Leo Naranjo takes center stage during the first half for the Leopards boys soccer team. The senior leads the defense with a boisterous baritone, barking out plays and where his teammates need to be. He complements his loudness with a powerful leg capable of launching the ball into enemy territory, which helps spark the offense.
His relief is Phillip Padilla. The hulky senior who is a big shot blocker brings physicality between the posts, stopping balls with steely resolve and a toughness reserved for linemen. Padilla, who is able to cover all stations between the posts, fearlessly sacrifices his body for the team, charging threatening players or diving into the air to make stops.
Padilla's and Naranjo's rotation is rare to East, but it is paying big dividends. Leopards coach Rudy Scheck likes having two players in goal who bring different skill sets.
"Our approach during preseason was to use our six games to see if one of them separates from the other," Scheck said. "They bring different strengths, and now that we're having a pretty solid season splitting time, they're buying into this."
It was hard for the players at first. Naturally competitive, they both wanted the starting job. But Padilla noticed that they were having success sharing the role, and he decided to shelve pride for the squad.
"At first, it was a rivalry," Padilla said. "Now we know our roles. We do what's best for the team."
Naranjo agreed, citing the school motto at East High, "Work Hard." Part of the work is not just preparing for each match physically but also having the confidence to do one's role. For Naranjo, it's about establishing the Leopards' presence on the field in the opening minutes.
"It's about controlling the defense," Naranjo said. "Once I settle in, I yell out to the guys on what's happening. You got to get them in line."
Under the current rotation, the tandem has allowed only seven goals, keeping East 6-1 in region play entering the week.
Padilla studies his opponents while watching the first half from the sideline, ready to come in and finish the game. Naranjo meets with Padilla at the half to give an on-field scouting report.
"We're both pretty good keepers," Naranjo said. "It's important that we tip each other off on what's happening out there."
They credit Scheck for pushing them throughout their high-school careers. The coach expects his players to work hard, stay focused and be ready to come in at any time. Naranjo remembers that Scheck told him as a freshman that anything is possible through hard work.
"Work hard and you'll make it big one day," Naranjo said he remembers his coach telling him. "Now is our chance to make that happen. Every game is big, and I want to win them all."