Aztecs rise to challenge at BCs

They may not have gotten into the medal hunt, but the Alpha Aztecs were full marks for their performance over the first two days at the B.C. AA senior boys soccer championships at Burnaby Lake West complex.

On the heels of a 1-1 draw with Richmond’s Hugh McRoberts, Alpha finished second overall in pool play, missing out of advancing to the Final Four later in the day.

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Head coach Andrew Porth said only a hiccup in the team’s opening game on Monday separated them from the medal contenders.

“Yesterday’s tie was the one,” Porth said of the team’s 0-0 draw with Caledonia that opened the 16-team tournament. “Sometimes you’re not sure if you want to play a slightly weaker team at the beginning, because you may take them for granted, or do you want to play a real tough game out the get-go? We played very well yesterday, we just couldn’t finish. (Caledonia’s) goalie was very good.”

The team followed that performance up with a hardy 2-0 win over Brentwood College, which positioned them as keepers of their own fate.

They needed to beat McRoberts, or hope that Caledonia could upset Brentwood in a game played on another field. The Richmond school scored first, but Alpha equalized it on a marker by Leonardo Liberatone early in the second half.

While they had some close chances and an edge in play over the second half, the Aztecs were unable to break the stalemate. And while they finished 1-0-2 and undefeated, Brentwood claimed first with a 2-1-0 record.

“We just couldn’t get that second goal that we needed (against McRoberts). It’s unfortunate, the boys played really, really hard and left it all on the field. That’s all we can ask for. … We were full value for the win over Brentwood. That’s the best I’ve seen these guys play.”

They lined up to play South Kamloops at 12:45 a.m., with the winner advancing to play for fifth place on Saturday.

Considering the effort level and heart they’ve shown in the run to the provincials, the Aztecs definitely deserved to be in the winner’s bracket.

The biggest win to date would be their 1-0 victory over Archbishop Carney 10 days ago, clinching the Fraser North zone’s berth to the B.C.s. It came after they doubled up Westview 4-2 in convincing fashion to make it to the inaugural Fraser North final.

But of all the hurdles they’ve faced, becoming a strong, cohesive team over a short marathon season may even one-up that.

“There were a lot of hurdles. We kind of stumbled along a little bit at the get-go and everyone was playing as individuals,” recalled Porth. “Then we found each other as a team, and soon as we did that we became a much tougher opponent for everybody. When we went through the districts they were just fantastic. It takes a team to win.”

Being that the lineup features players from Burnaby District, Mountain United, Cliff Avenue and elsewhere, chemistry is always a question mark to start the year. Porth noted that while talent can override a lot of challenges, it can’t succeed without a one-for-all dedication.

“They play for each other. It’s been easy to coach – I don’t have to inspire them, I don’t have to teach them as there’s a lot of skill here.”

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