As one successful class moves on, another one moves in. That’s just the way it is with Astoria boys soccer.

Despite heavy graduation numbers last year, the perennial favorites in the Cowapa League will be back again, just as strong and competitive as ever.

THE LEAGUE

Astoria cruised through Cowapa League play with an 8-0-1 record last season. Outside of a 1-1 tie at Seaside, the Fishermen never scored fewer than three goals in their eight league wins.

One of the problems? Finding some competition. The Cowapa wasn’t exactly a powerhouse among Class 4A leagues last year. Four of the six teams (Banks, Tillamook, Scappoose, Yamhill-Carlton) were ranked 29th or lower in the final OSAA Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) rankings. Tillamook, Scappoose and Yamhill-Carlton were among the bottom nine.

Lack of competition throughout the league season doesn’t prepare the Fishermen for the state playoffs, but they’ve learned to deal with it.

In league play, “Banks will be our strongest competition,” said Astoria coach Bill Patterson. “They have a nice player at outside-mid, and they have a strong center-mid.

“Tillamook always has talent, and it’s always a tough home-and-away game for us,” he said. “Other than Seaside, it’s probably the most heated rivalry. I think our competition will be Tillamook and Banks. We could lose a game there.”

The Gulls lost some quality players through graduation, and “I suspect that they’re not going to be the same powerhouse that they have been in the Cowapa League,” Patterson said.

“I feel good about the Cowapa League this year,” he added. “I don’t know how far we’ll go in the playoffs. It depends on how good my back line and keepers improve, and how well these guys learn to be patient and play simple soccer. If they’re patient, they’re going to score a lot of goals.”

THE PLAYERS

“I’ve got low numbers,” Patterson said the first week of practice. “Real low numbers – 26, maybe. We have a small freshmen class, and we graduated a ton of seniors (eight, plus a foreign exchange student). And we only brought in five freshmen. So we may even cancel some JV games. We’ll struggle to keep our JV program intact, and that’s one of my main concerns.”

But the 11 players Patterson puts on the field for varsity games? They should be unmatched, at least in league play.

The strength will be in the midfield, Patterson said.

“The idea is to play on the other team’s end, and to win the ball defensively at midfield,” he said. “If I put them together as a threesome, I think I’ve got the best 4A midfield in the state. Liam Loughran (Sr.), Hector Chavez (Jr.) and Ben Beeson (Jr.) will be the midfielders. They’ve been together for a long time. The midfield is the best I’ve ever had here.

“And with Josh Long (Jr.) and Lalo Garcia (Jr.) on the wings, Jordan Gagnon (Jr.) as our starting forward … our strategy is to outscore the other team this year, and I think we’ll do that to a lot of teams.”

Garcia “is going to score a lot of goals,” he said. “He’ll be our starting right wing.”

You also need a solid defense to win, and that’s where the Fishermen will need some work.

“The plan is to replace my back line,” Patterson said. “The only returning starter is Jason Keating (Jr.) , and he went down about halfway through the year with a knee injury. That’s when we moved Noah (Swerdloff) back, and he did a great job.

“So the back line is going to be completely rebuilt. We have a new goalkeeper (Jacob Forte, Sr.). He played a little varsity last year, and he’s much improved with his summer play.”

Other contributors will include seniors Nate Holcom and Alex Junes; junior Mercilino Ochoa; and sophomore Rory Loughran “might earn a starting spot as a right defender,” Patterson said.

Additional up-and-comers are 6-foot-2 junior goalkeeper Spencer Nelson; Kirk Fausett Jr., a freshman keeper; and freshmen Rafael Alcantar and Jasyn Gohl.

Newcomers Luis and Jorge Herrejon may also play key roles, along with sophomore Jonathan Salcedo.

Astoria’s preseason schedule includes Catlin Gabel, La Salle, Cascade and Oregon Episcopal.

“I’m hoping to win two of those four games for our RPI,” Patterson said. “We have to get the RPI as high as we can in the preseason.

“I’m very confident when we play our style,” he said. “We’re gearing for the playoffs, and we want to go farther than we have in the past couple years. We want to get to the quarterfinals and maybe the semis.

“I’ve been waiting for this group,” said the coach. “And next year, this team is going to be phenomenal. Except for Liam, every one is a junior this year.”

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