Soccer playoff berth validates Sierra Vista’s gains

No magical overhaul or missing ingredient was necessary to spark Sierra Vista’s boys soccer turnaround from a 6-9-3 season last year to a playoff berth.

All that was needed was just a little bit more from everybody, including eight returning starters.

"A lot of the players just got better," senior midfielder Milan Popovic said. "Everyone’s gotten better technically, or a little faster."

Sierra Vista (15-3) opens the Sunset Region playoffs today as the Southwest League’s No. 2 seed, with a 4 p.m. matchup against Northwest power Palo Verde (12-4-1) at Faith Lutheran.

Popovic, who has 13 goals and 29 assists, credited the team’s regular-season success to its possession-oriented style.

"We always look for the best opportunity to score," he said. "Take shots, but don’t take unnecessary shots.

"The coaches always say, ‘Don’t waste a chance, because you never know if you will get that chance the whole game.’ "

Newcomer Miles McRae, a sophomore forward, has provided Sierra Vista with a scoring force in front of goal. He leads the Mountain Lions with 20 goals.

"Last year, we came into some games kind of looking for a loss," McRae said. "But this year, we feel we have something good going. We come into games thinking we can beat anybody."

The Mountain Lions have outscored opponents 77-35, and only one of their three losses was by shutout.

The offensive firepower even surprised eighth-year coach Ryan Quinn.

"I could tell going through practice that the cohesion was good," Quinn said. "But a lot of it was the new additions. Picking up Miles was huge; we’ve never had a traditional goal scorer, and he’s one of them. I expected us to have a better season than last year, competing for a playoff spot. But out of the gates, it surprised us as well.

"The amount of offensive firepower we had was a pleasant surprise."

The roster also includes eight seniors, including Popovic and four-year starting defender and team captain Jorge Echavarria, giving the Mountain Lions strong leadership. The seniors helped the team maintain a single focus all season.

"Our goal was to make the playoffs," Echavarria said. "It gave us a purpose."

With that goal met, Sierra Vista hopes to set another school milestone: winning the program’s first-ever playoff game. Getting past Palo Verde won’t be easy.

"We’re newbies on the scene, and not a traditional playoff-bound team. We’re playing Palo Verde, which is," Quinn said. "I know we’re the two seed, but I feel like since we’re so new, we’re underdogs."

Contact reporter Sean Walker at swalker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0430.

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