For a team that has lost just three games in Academic Athletic Association league play over the past four seasons, the Mission boys’ soccer team has made a habit of living up to its coach’s stirringly high expectations.
"We really go into league play expecting to win every game," coach Scott Kennedy said. "We aim to score six goals every game and to surrender zero. We definitely set the standard high here, but as competitors, why would we not expect to succeed? We end up being successful because every guy on this team works hard and has the same goal in mind."
Kennedy’s Bears have certainly not disappointed this season, rolling through AAA play with a 12-0-2 record, while outscoring opponents 71-11. Mission’s impressive regular-season run garnered them the top seed from the X Division in this year’s AAA playoffs, where they will face the Y Division’s No. 2 squad, Galileo, in the opening round today at 2:30 p.m. at Boxer Stadium.
The winner of this match will face the winner of the Thursday’s Lowell-O’Connell game for the championship on Saturday.
Mission has already beaten Galileo this season, winning a 3-1 contest in which Mission dominated, but could not put away the pesky Lions.
"They played us tough last time and we couldn’t capitalize on some opportunities" said Kennedy, whose squad is 19-5-2 overall this year. "With the big field for the playoffs, we’ve feel like we’ve got enough athletes to really run up and down the field.
We’re not going to make it a secret that we want to force the tempo. It’s and old cliche, but as long as we play as a team, we should be fine."
The storied Mission program, which has 32 AAA championships, nabbed its first trophy under Kennedy last season, with a 2-1 win over Lowell in the title game.
The hero of that game, sweeper Jairo Majano, has been the anchor of Mission’s impressive defense this year, leading a group that has posted 11 shutouts.
Yet as remarkable as his defensive feats may be, Majano will most likely always be remembered for his dazzling goal in last year’s title game.
With the scored tied 1-1, Majano’s gravity-defying free kick off a set play from 30 yards out bent around the Lowell goalkeeper’s outstretched arms, sending the Bears to the AAA championship.
This year, Majano has four more goals of similar ilk — all off set plays designed specifically for him.
"Jairo is such a weapon for us," said Kennedy, whose five-year record at Mission stands at 81-26-10. "He’s got a real powerful leg and he does everything we ask of him — he’s a great teammate and a great kid."
The soccer pitch isn’t the only area where Majano excels in — he is also currently the kicker for the Mission football team.
"I like playing both sports," said Majano, who started kicking for the football team this year. "I can prepare for them in a lot of the same ways. It’s a lot of work, but I always find time for both."
While his time remains split devoutly between the two squads, Majano’s main focus will be on grabbing another AAA soccer title for his team and his coach.
"We do it as a team, all 11 guys play together," said Majano, who endearingly (and with a sly grin) refers to Kennedy as "Papi." "We’ve prepared very hard and practiced very hard for this. We want one more championship."