Forest Grove boys cap a marvelous season with a berth in the 6A state quarterfinals

by: CHASE ALLGOOD - Forest Grove's Jairo Aguilar Ortiz prepares to fire a shot on Aloha goalkeeper Jorge Rodriguez during last week's playoff match.The Forest Grove boys soccer season came to a startling end last Saturday when the Vikings lost 5-1 to Clackamas in the quarterfinals of the OSAA Class 6A state playoffs.

“We lost to a really big, physical team with good players,” Forest Grove coach Angelo Simonetti said. “The Clackamas Cavaliers were a better team than us. They were more experienced than our team. We played with everything we could. We fought hard, we left everything on the field. But, unfortunately it was not our day.”

Forget how the season ended for a minute, though. Instead, think about how far the Vikings have come in just a year.

Last season, Forest Grove was a doormat in the Pacific Conference, winning three games all year and finishing second from the bottom of the conference.

This season, the Vikings went 12-5-1 overall and 2-4-1 in league, finishing in fourth place. They then shocked many outside observers with a 4-0 win over Sprague in a Class 6A play-in game, a 2-1 win over McKay in the first round of the playoffs and a 3-0 win over Aloha in the second round of the playoffs last Tuesday night.

Even when Forest Grove was a bottom feeder in the Pacific Conference, the talent was always there for the Vikings. They had many skilled players. But, because the players played on different club teams, or not at all during the offseason, it was difficult to harness their skills and turn them into a team.

That was exactly what Simonetti did this season, though.

“We weren’t a team,” midfielder Juan Delgado said. “We were just club players. Coach Simonetti brought us together.”

Simonetti did that by stressing to all of his players that the season would not be about individual performances. Rather, he told them, they would be judged by what they were able to do together.

“We put a team together and told them to leave their egos on the side of the field,” Simonetti said. “We told them that they were a part of something, that they were building something and that we were going to do this together.

“We got together really well and the results came. Acknowledging that every single person is important to the team was what brought this team together.”

Simonetti was able to get his players to buy into that philosophy by treating them with the same amount of love that he shows his own children.

“I treat my (players) as a family,” Simonetti says. “I have four kids of my own, but I have 23 kids on my field. When I’m asked who is the most important player on the team, I say that all my players are important in their own way.

“The team is more important than individuals. We became a really great team.”

During the preseason, the Vikings showed how good they could be when they played together as a team. They struggled a bit during conference play because of injuries and illnesses. Once their players were healthy for the playoffs, though, they once against proved that together they were a formidable opponent.

“That’s something I cannot coach through,” Simonetti said of the mid-season injuries and illnesses. “I knew that it was just a matter of time until the guys were healthy and we were going to play better.”

Heading into next season, the Vikings will return all but four graduating seniors. Simonetti’s focus now is on meeting with club coaches and trying to organize an all-inclusive Forest Grove club soccer team so his players can continue to play together this offseason.

“I will have a meeting with two local Forest Grove soccer clubs and I’ll help them put together a plan to develop classic soccer programs in Forest Grove,” Simonetti said. “I can’t believe the amount of talent and the amount of kids who play in the Forest Grove neighborhood. And Forest Grove doesn’t have a competitive (club) team. The best players on my (high school) team go to Portland in the offseason to play with other (club) teams.

“I want to sit down with everyone in Forest Grove and find out how to make this happen, how to make Forest Grove become a powerful soccer city using all these local talents. That’s the next step.”

If Simonetti is able to help facilitate that next step, he sees Forest Grove being very good next season.

“Soccer is a kind of sport that you have to play all year long to not lose the ability, the creation and the fitness,” Simonetti said. “In different sports you can just play on the weekends. Soccer, because you play with your feet, you have to keep using your ability or you go down in your game. That’s really important to us.

“I need to get a Forest Grove team together that can play together. If I can do that, if I can find a home for every single player on the varsity and the JV team, next year we’ll have a way, way better team.”

The Vikings were a pretty good team this season. And if Forest Grove looks back on successes in years to come, it is quite possible that 2012 will be seen as a watershed moment.

“It’s amazing how we turned the page from last year when we were (second) from the bottom of the table in the Pacific Conference and this year we finished in the top eight (in the state),” Simonetti says. “The season was night and day. We’re in a really nice sunny day now as opposed to the really bad winter nights last year.”

When the Viking players think back on the 2012 season, they will have the playoff run to remember always.

Said midfielder Jairo Aguilar Ortiz after Forest Grove’s victory over Aloha: “I can’t even explain how fun this is.”

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