Hughson boys ride shutout streak to first place in TVL soccer standings
Edgar Lopez readily admits he didn’t see this coming. On Dec. 21, the Hughson boys soccer had just suffered its fourth straight loss, 3-2 to Sierra of Manteca. At that point, the Huskies’ record was 5-8 and Lopez, the team’s first-year coach, was still trying to figure out how best to integrate the players who had joined the team late because they were involved in football playoffs.
After falling to Sierra, Hughson had two weeks during the Christmas break to prepare for the beginning of the Trans-Valley League schedule. Clearly, something clicked during that time. The Huskies have been a different team since the calendar flipped to 2024, winning seven of their eight TVL matches – amazingly, all by shutouts – to rocket into first place with two games left.
“We definitely have caught fire,” Lopez said. “We’ve been able to put all the pieces together. I think it just took some time to figure out how our team works best.”
Defense has been at the heart of Hughson’s surge. Senior goalie John Rodriguez has only allowed three goals in league play – all in a 3-1 loss at Riverbank on Jan. 9. Otherwise, he’s been perfect as the Huskies won 2-0 vs. Escalon, 1-0 at Livingston, 2-0 at Hilmar, 1-0 at Ripon, 1-0 at home vs. Riverbank and 8-0 over on the road at Escalon on Tuesday. For the season, Rodriguez has held 11 opponents scoreless.
“He’s made some crucial saves, including last week against Riverbank,” Lopez said.
Rodriguez’s twin brother, James, sophomore Noe Pacheco and junior Stephen Sousa have anchored the impenetrable defensive wall that Hughson has built in TVL play.
“Our defense has been extremely solid and because of them we’ve been able to get these wins,” Lopez said. “I told my back line, ‘As long as you guys are solid, we’ll have a chance to win.’ ”
Sousa, in particular, filled in for senior Jesus “Chuey” Artea when he went to Mexico for three weeks with his family.
“I didn’t see it coming like this, especially knowing that Chuey was going to leave us for a length of time,” Lopez admitted. “We’ve had so many players just step up. We’ve had so many close games, so many crazy games, where our guys just overcame adversity.
Offensively, senior Larkin Meyer and sophomore Brandon Pantoja have led the way with seven goals and 16 points each.
Lopez credits his players for consistently working hard in practice and maintaining a positive attitude – even when they weren’t winning earlier in the season.
“The boys have just picked up a strong mentality and there’s been so much positivity in the group,” he said. “I hear from parents that they see other teams bicker when they mess up. We lift each other up; we pick each other up.”
With two TVL matches to play, the Huskies’ hot streak has pushed them ahead of Riverbank (6-2) and Livingston (5-2-1) in the TVL standings. Hughson hosts Livingston on Thursday and Hilmar (4-12-2, 3-3-1) on Tuesday.
“If we beat Livingston and handle business against Hilmar, we’ll be first by ourselves,” said Lopez, adding that he hasn’t talked much about the playoffs, which Hughson has qualified for the past two seasons.
Thanks to its run of good play, Hughson (12-9) has risen to third in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV rankings behind Orestimba (12-8-4) and Riverbank (9-10-4). Winning the TVL title would likely earn Hughson a higher seeding and the possibility of multiple home matches when the playoffs begin Feb. 9. Pairings will be released next week.
“My thing has been keeping these boys level-headed and humble,” Lopez said. “We really haven’t won anything yet. We still have two more games to play. Whether we win or we lose, we lift each other up as a family.”