2017-01-20 / Sports
RIVALRY WEEK /// Simi Valley vs. Royal Simi Valley’s ‘El Clásico’ pits superstar strikers against each other
Royal and Simi Valley will collide in a crucial Coastal Canyon League match at 6:45 tonight at Simi Valley.
“It’s Simi Valley’s El Clásico,” Highlander senior forward Alexis Garcia said, likening the battle to a Real Madrid-Barcelona clash. “That’s what it is to me.”
The matchup pits two of Ventura County’s most exciting strikers, Garcia and Simi Valley senior Caleb Malabo, against each other for the first time this season.
Consider them the Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi of this brouhaha.
Fans that brave the expected rain should also be ready to be showered with goals. These two star forwards haven’t been stopped yet.
Malabo powers Simi Valley (7-4-2, 2-0) with 15 goals. He’s also chipped in two assists.
Royal head coach Ignacio Saldain said the superstars are at the top of each team’s watch list.
“Caleb’s a very good player,” Saldain said. “We definitely have to try to contain him. If you give him a lot of space, he’s going to be very dangerous. We’ll be ready for him, like I’m sure Simi will be for Alexis.”
By now, every team knows they must mark Garcia at all times. Sometimes that doesn’t work.
“He had one shot in the entire game,” Clunen said, “and it was a bad shot from a bad angle, and he finished it. That was pretty much his only touch the entire game. That’s what makes him so dangerous. If you give him a pocket to shoot, he’ll beat you.”
Garcia, who had 17 goals and three assists as a junior, helped Royal claim the league crown last season by netting 10 of his goals in league matches.
“Tim Clunen mentioned in the Acorn early this season that Alexis could single-handedly win a championship if you don’t take care of him,” Saldain said. “I don’t think he’s wrong about that. Everybody’s going to double team him.”
Garcia’s OK with attracting opponents’ top defenders. It leaves his teammates open for scoring chances.
“The key to winning is connecting passes and finishing the opportunities we get,” Garcia said. “We don’t focus on one player doing the job of everyone else. All of us contribute. That’s how we win.”
Garcia started learning the sport at age 6 from his father, Jose Garcia, who played recreational soccer most of his life. The father, who has another son, Christian Garcia, on the Royal frosh-soph team, didn’t just teach his eldest son how to shoot.
“He’s taught me how to be in position, how to score, how to dribble and how to be a keeper as well,” Alexis Garcia said. “He’s taught me the important aspects of the whole sport of soccer.”
The son of Maria Juarez, Garcia wants to prove once again that he can come through on the biggest stage.
He plans on playing soccer at Oxnard College next year before pursuing a career as a professional soccer player.
He’s looking forward to continuing Royal’s domination over its rivals.
“It’s most intense for seniors because it’s your last opportunity to win,” the Highlander said. “Everyone’s going to be focused and give it all they have.”
“I haven’t gotten a win with my team against Royal yet,” Malabo said. “I’m hoping to get that win. I want to beat them my senior year.”
Malabo, who didn’t play soccer his sophomore season, returned to lead Simi Valley with nine goals and two assists last season.
He’s even better this year.
“I’ve been playing with my back to goal a lot better than last year,” he said. “My coach helped me work on it. I’m also finishing better.”
The son of Jennifer Gligorijevic and Alfonzo Rocher, Malabo will share the field tonight with his twin brother, Lucas Malabo, one of Simi Valley’s top defenders.
Clunen, who’s in his fifth season as head coach, can’t wait to unleash Caleb Malabo on the Highlanders.
“In my tenure at Simi, he’s the most dominant scorer we’ve had,” Clunen said. “He’s a reliable performance guy.”
The coach, who assisted at Westlake for eight years, compared Malabo to two of the area’s most distinguished players: former Westlake standout Danny Barrera and former Thousand Oaks star Chance Myers.
Barrera, who starred at UC Santa Barbara, plays for the Sacramento Republic in the United Soccer League. Myers, a former UCLA star, plays for Sporting Kansas City in Major League Soccer.
“They could just take the game over,” Clunen said of Barrera and Myers, “and Caleb can do that. He’s a Division I talent.”
After high school, Malabo plans on attending Moorpark College before transferring to a Division I program.
Saldain and Clunen can try to downplay the impact of their strikers, but everyone knows the ball is going to Garcia and Malabo.
“It’s one of those times there’s two clear standout players from both teams, and they’re both high-scoring threats,” Saldain said. “It might come down to who can take care of the forwards better.”
Clunen said he hopes first-place Simi Valley win tonight before the two teams meet again at 6:45 p.m. Feb. 3 at Royal.
“If you’re coming out to watch a high school soccer game, you’re probably not expecting a high-level game or to see guys that are next-level talents,” he said. “In optimal conditions, those guys can put on a show very much like (Larry) Bird and Magic (Johnson).
“This game is going to be special.”
Email Jonathan Andrade at firstname.lastname@example.org.