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Defending state soccer champion Palo Verde loses star player

When Palo Verde won its first boys soccer state championship last season, it appeared as if the Panthers could be set up for a run of titles.

After all, they figured to have Yuval Cohen, who scored 40 goals last season and won Gatorade State Player of the Year honors, back for two more years.

But nothing is certain in high school sports. Cohen has had tryouts with Major League Soccer clubs, and Palo Verde coach Scott Hunt doesn’t expect to have him available this season.

“That one’s going to hurt us,” Hunt said. “But we’ll still be in the mix. It’s just going to be different.”

Palo Verde will find out just how different quickly when the season begins Thursday. The Panthers open at the Gerald Pentsil Classic at Eldorado.

The tournament includes potential Class 5A contenders in Tech and Cimarron-Memorial, along with 4A powers in defending state champion Sunrise Mountain and state semifinalist Arbor View. It should provide each team with a strong indication of where they stand.

Despite losing Cohen and 10 seniors from last year’s team, the Panthers have six starters returning. Matthew Vogel is the top returning attacker — he had 13 goals and 13 assists last season — and Quentin Gomez will be expected to be a leader on defense.

Even if the Panthers had Cohen in the lineup, repeating wouldn’t be easy.

No team has won back-to-back titles in the state’s highest classification since Legacy in 2010 and 2011, and there is a strong contingent of talented teams that have designs on taking the crown this year.

Coronado reached the state tournament for the third time in the past four seasons and has its top attacker back in Chase Ciobanu, who had 20 goals and 11 assists last year.

“We have seven starters back, so the core is there,” Coronado coach Dustin Barton said. “I think everybody in 5A has a chance. If you’re one of the top eight teams, anybody can take it.”

Las Vegas was the No. 1 seed in the 5A Southern Region playoffs before falling in penalties to Coronado in the regional semifinals. Eldorado reached the 2019 state championship game before falling to Bishop Gorman and pushed Palo Verde to overtime in the regional semifinals before losing.

“I think Eldorado will be very strong,” Hunt said. “They have some of their top guys back, and our JV team was good and theirs beat us soundly.”

Eldorado coach David Ostler said he always measures his team based on how it plays against Coronado, a team he said is “always championship caliber.”

“That’s one game we look at to see if we are a contender or not,” Ostler said.

Jorge Sandoval-Gonzalez anchors the Eldorado defense from his center back spot, and Rafael Lucio was second in the valley with 21 assists.

The Sundevils also have three forwards in David Figueroa, Eric Hodges and Jordan Rodriguez who “can all score the ball,” Ostler said.

“You have to get lucky, but when you compare this team with teams in the past, it has the talent to do it,” Ostler said. “We have to avoid injuries and play big in big moments. We have senior leadership that can get us there.”

Contact Jason Orts at jorts@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SportsWithOrts on Twitter.

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