2023-24 Boys Soccer

Sunnyside strengthens claim of being one of nation’s best with 4-1 win over Tucson

Sunnyside eighth-year coach Casey O’Brien addresses his team after its 4-1 win over Tucson High (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Southern Arizona high school boys soccer rarely, if ever, had the kind of talent on the pitch at the same time as was the case Thursday night when Sunnyside and Tucson met on the southside.

The Blue Devils, the top-rated 6A team in the state, improved to 21-0-1 with the 4-1 win over No. 2 Tucson in front of a large, boisterous crowd at Sunnyside.

The Badgers (17-2) know they have another opportunity Monday when the Blue Devils make a return visit to Gridley Stadium. Sunnyside will attempt to earn the 6A South title outright in that game. The Blue Devils are 5-0 in the region and the Badgers are 4-1.

Sunnyside’s No. 18 ranking nationally by MaxPreps will likely ascend after the victory over the Badgers, who are the No. 32-rated team in the nation by MaxPreps.

“We were okay with confidence and not getting cocky,” said Sunnyside junior forward Aaron Aborca, whose two goals against the Badgers give him 30 this season. “Not force the ball, just pass it, pass it within each other. We just played our game.”

Sunnyside incredibly has four players with at least 21 goals — Angel Bracamontes-Pulido with 31, Aborca 30, Johan Jimenez 24 and Armando Alvizar 21.

Bracamontes-Pulido had a goal and an assist against the Badgers and Jimenez also put one in the net.

Sunnyside coach Casey O’Brien, 146-27-8 in his eight seasons as Sunnyside’s coach, said the scoring production from his top four players is reminiscent of his 2018-19 state championship team that finished 24-0-2.

That team had Manuel Quiroz with 39 goals and 21 assists, Adrian Virgen with 22 goals and 25 assists, Fabian Mendoza with 13 goals and Ulysses Torres-Palacios with nine.

That top four combined for 83 goals and 59 assists.

This year’s top four of Bracamontes-Pulido, Aborca, Jimenez and Alvizar have scored 104 goals with 69 assists.

“It’s super balanced so I think we’re hard to prepare for,” O’Brien said. “Any of them can have a big night. All of them have had hat tricks this year. Three of them have had five goals in a game this year.

“All of them can get going at any time. It’s pretty cool to have players like that. It kind of reminds me of the state championship team because we had Manny, Adrian Virgen, we just had kids with super finishing ability.”

Sunnyside did not open the scoring until five minutes remained before halftime when Bracamontes-Pulido kicked the ball over a defender to himself and fed Aborca with a perfectly-timed pass that Aborca put into the net from 10 yards to the right of the goal.

Bracamontes-Pulido eluded a defender and made a goal from 15 yards while driving to the right side of the field at the 63-minute mark to give the Blue Devils a 2-0 lead.

“This win is very big for me because it motivates us to keep pushing, to keep working hard and going for the playoffs” Bracamontes-Pulido said. “We’re just here to have fun. I like playing with my teammates. I appreciate them.”

Jimenez increased the lead to 3-0 at the 67-minute mark kicking the ball in from close range off a bullet of a pass to the center by Eythan Mancilla.

Tucson answered two minutes later with Emilio Arenas’ strong attack to the goal for the Badgers’ lone goal, which was the only time out of the 80 minutes that O’Brien’s defense broke down.

“It’s crazy, out of all the teams that we’ve had this is our best defense statistically,” O’Brien said. “We’ve given up the least goals (13 in 22 games). That’s the least we’ve ever conceded. Our defense is our strength.

“People always like the goals because it’s flashy and you’re like, ‘Man, they scored eight goals,’ or whatever, but literally our defense just locks it down every single day. They’re so competitive. Offensively, it makes it easier on the offense because you know that your defense is going to give you all those opportunities. I think our defense is our strength. That’s always been my thing. I think our defense is again one of the top probably in the country.”

Aborca capped the scoring at the 71st minute.

The teams will meet again in only four days with Tucson seeking to avenge the loss on their home pitch and Sunnyside striving to keep that edge to remain unbeaten, take the region title outright and enter the state playoffs with a strong momentum.

“We never have a problem keeping the edge, that’s not an issue for us,” O’Brien said. “It starts with me and it trickles down to the kids. They listen and hear what I’m saying. We’re always competiive. Practice is competitive.

“Finding the edge is not a problem for us. We would play tomorrow if we could. We’ll wait until Monday if we have to. We’ll be ready to go.”


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator in 2016 and is presently a special education teacher at Sunnyside High School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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