Sunnyside over Salpointe 2-0 in the battle of top-ranked teams

Salpointe’s Leo Gutierrez goes up with Sunnyside keeper Miguel Lugo. (Steph van Latum/AllSportsTucson)

The battle for the top team in the state began Wednesday night at Sunnyside where the Blue Devils hosted Salpointe. Sunnyside came in ranked No. 1 in the 6A Conference and Salpointe the top-ranked team out of the 4A Conference. The two programs obviously won’t meet in the state playoffs but the level of soccer doesn’t get much better than this.

The Blue Devils came away with a 2-0 victory thanks to a goal from Aaron Abarca (Johan Jimenez) in the 10th minute and another from Adrian Jimenez in the 40th. Sunnyside had a few more chances to add on to their total but the Lancers also squandered a few early shots.

Wolfgang Weber. (Steph van Latum/AllSportsTucson)

“Up front, we had a few chances,” Salpointe head coach Wolfgang Weber said. “Leo (Gutierrez) had an opportunity and we also had an open shot right at the keeper. In the end, when I look at the overall scheme of things, we had five or six chances, but they had about 10 and our goal keeper kept most of them out. So I think that’s something we can build on.”

Brandon McChesney came away with 10 saves on the night for the Lancers and Miguel Lugo had a couple of game-saving stops for the Blue Devils. The victory moved the Blue Devils to 16-0-1 overall, which is good enough for a No. 9 ranking nationally according to the MaxPreps computers, but the AIA rankings used for the state playoffs are based on regular season matches and the Blue Devils are perfect there at 6-0 with several high-level matches remaining, including two region matches with No. 7 Tucson (5-0).

Sunnyside beat Tucson 3-1 during a preseason invitational. As mentioned before, that match did not get figured into the state rankings but it added to the national footprint of the Blue Devils. Sunnyside won a 5A state championship in 2019 under head coach Casey O’Brien and the team has been seen as one of the top programs since with a runner-up finish in 2020 followed by a jump to the 6A ranks last year.

We’ve had good teams in the past so this team kind of has a similar vibe to some of those teams,” O’Brien said. “Just the fact that we’ve been playing good competition like Salpointe and Tucson. We’ve done well against good competition and this team has a knack for winning but I wouldn’t say we’re playing really good right now though. We had a lot of games that kind of went our way early.”

Salpointe won 10 state championships since 1985, including four of the last five and the last three in a row, all under Weber. Weber knows a loss to a team like Sunnyside will help his program’s stature in the rankings win or lose.

“I thought that at times we did pretty well, we made a few mistakes and Sunnyside got it,” Weber added. “They have an outstanding team and there’s a reason why they are number one so I think it’s not going to hurt us too much in terms of the rankings and when we lose to a team like that, but I thought we could have played a little bit at times, it started to look a little hectic.”

When asked about this year’s squad Weber talked about his defense.

“We were still trying to find ourselves,” Weber said. “Everybody that was a defender last year is gone so we’re restructuring in the back and we have more good teams right in front of us but those are the important games to stay up in the rankings. Our goal is to be among the top four to get home matches in the playoffs.”

Casey O’Brien. (Steph van Latum/AllSportsTucson)

Salpointe will play at 6A Rincon/University (2-3) on Friday before hosting 6A power Tucson next Tuesday.

Like Weber, O’Brien is still working with his team at this point of the year.

“I’m just I’m a little frustrated and feel like our play style needs to be like a little bit shorter land a little more controlled with our passing,” O’Brien added. “It’d be nice to finish our opportunities a little bit better and I’d like to see us get into games a lot quicker. It seems like it takes about five to 10 minutes to settle into every game and that’s not going to cut it so I really would like the kids to just come in with a little more focus from the first whistle.”

Sunnyside hosts Douglas (1-5) on Tuesday before starting region play at Marana (1-4) on Wednesday.

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