Jose Duran (third from right) is congratulated after scoring the go-ahead goal for Southwest, which is nearing its fourth straight league title.
NATIONAL CITY The perils of playing soccer on Sweetwater High’s football field were on full display Tuesday.
Simple passes turned into adventures. The ball soared through the air, made contact with the ground, then launched skyward as if supported by springs. Clumps of grass alternated with patches of packed dirt. Even warming up proved treacherous.
“Just passing the ball, just jogging, I twisted my ankle,” said San Diego Southwest’s Gabe Alamillo.
The junior forward, however, shook it off to score the game’s first goal, and the Raiders went on to shake off Sweetwater in a 2-1 victory at Gail Devers Stadium.
Southwest (9-3-0, 6-0-0) remained perfect in the South Bay League while running its winning streak to eight. The Raiders have allowed just three goals in that span.
Still, they encountered a real challenge against the Red Devils’ combination of homefield advantage and aggressive play. Not long after Alamillo struck off a cross from Victor Campos less than five minutes in, Sweetwater's Julio Roman corralled a deflection in the box and flicked it past the goalkeeper for a 1-all tie.
That prompted Southwest coach Giovanni Medina to switch from a 4-3-3 formation — one he had specifically employed with the tricky playing surface in mind — to the Raiders’ usual 4-4-2.
Sweetwater (3-9-2) never scored again.
“The control from them wasn’t overwhelming us,” Red Devils coach Hiram Villafana said. “A couple players had a chance to score, but we couldn’t make something happen.”
The Raiders did. About 10 minutes into the second half, senior defender Jose Duran scored off a corner kick.
Southwest hung on from there, avenging last year’s 1-0 loss on this same field.
“This is the roughest one,” Medina said of the playing surface. “As long as (the Red Devils) have the team they have, which is kids that are very physical, very aggressive, very determined, you always struggle here.”
Southwest’s opponents are normally the ones struggling. With six games left on the South Bay schedule, the Raiders are eyeing their fourth consecutive league title.
Their sights extend beyond that, all the way to a San Diego Section crown. Last season, they fell to eventual Southern California regional champion St. Augustine in the Division III semifinals.
That experience has this year’s team hungry and, according to one of its own, more complete.
“It’s more rounded, more balanced,” Duran said. “Last year we had three guys who were really good, but if one of them was off, the whole team was off. Now it doesn’t matter if somebody’s playing bad. We pick up the slack.”