The Laguna Beach High School boys' soccer team, seeded third in the 2-A division playoffs, is not a team of stars. No single player has become a goal-scoring machine, no one defender has emerged as the team stopper. Just a bunch of players working together and winning.
"We're very well-balanced," said Laguna Beach Coach Foad Naderzad. "We have 19 players on the team, and all can play."
In that way, Laguna Beach, which faces Norwalk Friday at 3 p.m. in the first round of the playoffs, is the embodiment of the entire 2-A Division. After Wednesday's wild-card games, there are 32 teams in the 2-A playoffs--13 from Orange County--and they can all play.
Soccer followers are predicting some surprises after the first round.
"I think there could be some very big upsets in the first round," said Brea-Olinda Coach Manny Toledo, who has coached his team into the 2-A playoffs for the last five years and into the championship game (which they lost to Sunny Hills) last season. "The level of soccer play is going up. There are 15 to 20 teams in the 2-A that are very, very good."
The division's top-seeded team is Central (19-1) from El Centro, the 2-A co-champion, along with Brea-Olinda, in 1986. Five players from that team are seniors who have led their team to a 19-1 record.
Kennedy High School is seeded second in the 2-A and will face Brea-Olinda, which easily defeated Glenn in a wild-card game. Kennedy, the Garden Grove league champion, compiled a 15-3-3 record, losing just one league game--the last of the season to Bolsa Grande--and recorded nine shutouts.
Laguna Beach, seeded third, has an official 17-3-3 record, but the team considers itself 19-1-3. Two of its losses came because of forfeits midway through the season, when the team learned that one of its foreign players was at the school on a exchange program not sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation.
"It was a shock, but it was also a lift," Naderzad said. "After that we came out with a vengeance and went on to accomplish our goal, to win the Pacific Coast League title."
La Mirada (14-3-5) is seeded fourth in the 2-A. But a number of unseeded teams are serious contenders to make the final four, including another Pacific Coast League member, Orange. With just three senior starters, Orange finished the regular season 15-3-4. Two of its victories came courtesy of Laguna Beach's two forfeits.
Other strong county teams are Sea View League champion Saddleback (15-6-2), Orange League champion Valencia (9-6-5) and Freeway League champion Troy (8-0-2 in league play). Sea View League runner-up Newport Harbor (12-5-4) plays Freeway League runner-up La Habra (12-5-4).
In the 4-A Division:
Unlike the 2-A division, there is a clear favorite in the 4-A, which plays its first-round matches today. Mater Dei, the top-seeded team, is a heavy favorite.
Mater Dei was the division co-champion last season after tying West Torrance in the final, 1-1. Mater Dei has rolled to a 23-1-2 record this season, led by Paul Oldham and his 37 goals; Chris Mastrapaolo, last season's defensive player of the year, and Curt Bauer, the 1986-87 coach of the year. But the Monarchs have a tough draw in the first round--Rolling Hills (18-6-1) from the strong Bay League.
Palos Verdes (22-2-2), the Bay League champion, is seeded second; Royal (21-1-2) from Simi, is seeded third, and Santa Monica (18-2-5) is seeded fourth.
Fountain Valley (15-5-4), the Sunset League runner-up, has perhaps the toughest draw, facing last year's co-champion, West Torrance (17-3-3), runner-up in the Bay League and the only team to beat Mater Dei this season.
In a match between strong second-place Orange County teams, Servite (16-5-1), which tied Mater Dei in the last Angelus League game, faces the Century League's Villa Park (17-7-1). Other strong county teams include Sunset League champion Marina (13-8-2), which plays Millikan (16-6-1) from Long Beach; Edison (19-9-4), playing Alta Loma (13-4-4), and Canyon (17-4-4), the Century League champion, which will play Upland (16-6-2), the winner of Tuesday's wild-card game.
In the 3-A Division:
The most noticeable thing about the 3-A, which starts first-round play Friday, is that Esperanza, last year's runner-up and the 1985-86 champion, didn't make the playoffs this season. Diamond Bar (19-3-1), the team that beat Esperanza, 2-1, in last year's final, is seeded first.
The top-seeded team from Orange County is fourth-seeded Mission Viejo, behind Garey (19-3-2) and Bell Gardens (17-3-5). Mission Viejo (15-4-4), which was ranked No. 1 in the 3-A earlier in the season, is the South Coast League champion.
The 3-A dark horse is Katella. The Knights rebounded from last year's dismal season--when the team failed to make the playoffs and had its program suspended with two games remaining--and finished as the Empire League champion with a 12-2-8 record.
South Coast League runner-up Capistrano Valley (14-6-6) will take on Empire League runner-up El Dorado (10-5-2); El Toro (8-5-4) will face second-seeded Garey; and Los Alamitos (12-7-4) will play El Segundo (15-2).
In the 1-A Division:
Whittier Christian (16-2-4) is the only Orange County team seeded in the 1-A Division, seeded third, behind top-seeded Santa Paula and second-seeded Calabasas. The Heralds will face Canyon Springs (10-3-7) from Moreno Valley, Friday.
The other county team in the playoffs is Capistrano Valley Christian (10-5-3), which will play St. Anthony (5-2-3) of the Camino Real League.