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Southwest plays special brand of soccer

01/24/2014, 10:48pm PST
By Don Norcross

Like fast-break basketball team, Raiders are on the attack.

Southwest's Gabriel Alamillo (9) gets congratulated by teammate Gerardo Lopez after Alamillo scored a goal against Sweetwater on Wednesday.

The track encircling Southwest High’s football field consists of dirt.

The field itself? Mostly green grass, but splotches of dirt dot the pitch, which doubles as the Raiders’ soccer field. In front of one goalie box, a mud bog serves as a reminder that a sprinkler has gone awry.

No all-weather track. No artificial turf.

This is the home of one of the best high school soccer teams in the county, and one of the proudest.

“We’re not the best school, we’re not the richest school,” said Southwest midfielder Rafael Espinoza. “But our team brings a lot of happiness to the community.”

Tucked a couple miles from the border, Southwest High is 39 years old. More than 90 percent of the students are Mexican-American. Nearly 80 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. This is not the socio-economic blueprint to excel in traditional American sports.

From 1998 to 2002, Southwest endured a 40-game football losing streak. The school has not enjoyed a winning football season since 1992.

Going into Friday, the boys basketball team’s record the past three seasons was 12-53.

Then there’s futbol.

“It’s the sport that represents our school,” said defender Hector Silahua.

Added Principal Lee Romero, “You ask the kids at school and they will say it’s the only sport they love.”

Despite losing to Chula Vista 4-0 on Friday after losing a player on a red card, Southwest is 9-2-3. The Raiders are ranked seventh in the county.

Southwest is coached by 32-year-old Giovanni Medina. His brother, Raiders Athletic Director Guillermo Medina, coached the team for eight years before Giovanni. The brothers graduated from Southwest.

“We have a lot invested,” said Guillermo.

Like any good teacher/coach, Giovanni is demanding. According to Romero, Giovanni has cut talented players who didn’t understand team concepts. Tardiness isn’t tolerated. On game day, players dress up for school.

No jeans. Many players opt for ties and sport coats.

“He believes his kids should act to a higher standard,” said Romero.

Watching the Raiders play is entertaining on multiple levels. First, there’s the playing style. Like a fast-break basketball team, Southwest aggressively attacks.

Give-and-go passes. Dribbling exhibitions. Bam-bam-bam combinations.

“We focus more on creativity,” said Giovanni.

“Why not play that way?” said Espinoza, who assisted on all three goals in Southwest’s 3-2 win over Sweetwater on Wednesday. “It makes it more fun.”

Then there’s the sound of a Southwest game. The players communicate (loudly) almost exclusively in Spanish.

The school could generate serious revenue by charging fans a fee for shadowing Giovanni along the sideline. The man is passionate, pleading, alternately speaking Spanish and English.

“Atras! Atras! (Behind! Behind!) … There was no need for that extra dribble … Va llegar el segundo. (The second goal is coming.)”

With the clock winding down Wednesday, the Raiders clinging to a 3-2 lead, Giovanni yelled to the ref, pointing to his watch, “I’ve got 40 (minutes)! … “I’ve got 41! … I’ve got 42!”

The players like their coach’s demanding style.

“I think it helps us out and not just on the soccer field but in personal life,” said Espinoza. “This can help us in the future with a job.”

In the competitive South Bay, Southwest has won six league titles in the past 12 years, but only one San Diego Section title. The Raiders lost to St. Augustine in the Division III semis the past two seasons.

This year, anything short of a section championship will be disappointing.

“We want to hang a banner,” said Espinoza.

Added Silahua, “When we grow up and come back to school, we want to tell our little kids, we put up that banner.”

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