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By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

If it’s Dec. 21, the on-the-field game experience makes a huge difference in a boys soccer game, let alone any winter sport. Artesia High had it, Gahr High did not, and it showed big time as the Pioneers routed the visiting Gladiators 6-0 last Thursday.

While Artesia had already played nine games, five of which were played in the South Bay Westside Tournament, this was Gahr’s season opener, something unheard of for any soccer team this late in a season.

“I’ve been around for 24 years and yeah, I couldn’t believe it, honestly,” said Artesia head coach Octavio Marquez. “We’re a month into the season and this is our 10th game and for someone to come in a month in and not have a game…it’s kind of difficult. It’s their first game and they’re going to be excited and they’re going to come with everything they have or they’re going to look at us and say, ‘oh man, they have 10 games in’.”

“Obviously we were hoping to pull off a better result,” said Gahr first-year head coach Steve Brito. “The first game of the preseason is kind of working out the kinks and it gives me an idea of what we really need to work on.”

The Pioneers (8-2 overall) wasted little time in getting on the board as senior midfielder Javier Gonzalez took a shot from right of the penalty box, which bounced off left post. But junior forward Sammy Valle was there to score off the rebound just five minutes in.

The best chance for the Gladiators to score came three minutes later when senior Eric Alejo’s shot from the left side sailed off to the right of the net. It was the first of three shots Gahr took, all coming in the first half.

After that, it was all Artesia as 10 minutes after getting on the board, Gonzalez assisted on senior forward Martin Razo’s goal. Then in the 25th minute, Razo made it 3-0 on a header from junior midfielder Angel Rocha. The onslaught continued when this time, Valle took a corner kick and Gonzalez was there to head it in with nine minutes remaining in the half.

Then in the 38th minute, Razo completed a hat trick when he scored off his own rebound. It marked the second straight game and third this season that Razo has scored three goals. He leads the team with 14 goals.

“Martin up top is just a workhorse,” Marquez said. “If you look at him, people are going to say that he’s small, but you would never imagine. He just works. He’s our biggest offensive weapon. [Javier] last year, he played defender for us, but with his speed, we just needed to push him up a little bit because he’s the type of player who likes to go up.”

The Pioneers took 14 shots on Gahr sophomore goalkeeper Anthony Miranda in the first half and five more in the second half. The final goal came in 75th minute as sophomore midfielder Alejandro Romero scored off a pass from Valle. The win was the second straight 6-0 decision in four days as the Pioneers began Suburban League action with a rout over Bellflower High.

“We’re not worried so much about scoring,” Marquez said about the second half. “It’s just working on keeping possession of the ball and not getting impatient of forcing things, forcing passes, forcing long balls. You don’t want to beat a team 10-0. I don’t encourage that.”

Artesia has outscored their opponents 42-18 through 10 games whereas this time last season when it played Gahr in the 10th game, that team was 3-7 with 20 goals scored. Last season, the Pioneers were 13-12 overall and missed the postseason.

“We’ve been playing well this year and the difference between this year and last year is we’re playing more as a team,” Marquez said. “Last year we had some team issues that I really can’t elaborate into. But we’ve been playing well, and our record has been showing it. We’ve beaten some good teams and hopefully it’s something we can continue into league.”

“I think once we get this next game [Dec. 22], and hopefully we’ll have a few more matches before the [league] season starts, we’ll kind of get in the flow of things and work out the chemistry,” Brito said. “Going into [the league] season, we’ll be more prepared.”

Gahr was to play Santa Fe High last Friday and Brito was hoping to pick up a game or two this past week. If not, then Gahr’s next contest will be Jan. 9 at Dominguez High, which will mark the start of San Gabriel Valley League action. Last season, the Gladiators were 4-11-1 overall and 1-8-1 in league play with the win and the tie coming against Dominguez.

“I think every year you go with the idea that this season is going to be better than last year,” Brito said. “That hasn’t changed with me. Obviously last year, it was all over the place; wasn’t as structured as we would have wanted. I think now, we’re in a better place. We have a great group of new kids that came and tried out with the team. The camaraderie is great amongst them. We’re definitely holding our heads up and we’re definitely looking for a better season this time around.”

The Pioneers faced Esperanza High and Valencia High this past Wednesday of the North Orange County Championships, which will conclude today. Then, the Pioneers will get back into league play on Jan. 5 with a home tilt against Cerritos High.

“It’s a different style of soccer,” Marquez said of this week’s tournament. “It’s something that I wanted to do just to give us a different aspect because once we get to the playoffs, we could face one of those types of teams.”