If there was ever a sleeper team to pick for a climb up the 5A ranks, it is The Dalles boys soccer team.
Over the past three seasons, the Riverhawks have increased their win totals, improved on both offense and defense and made three consecutive postseason appearances under head coach Matthew Dallman.
With the departure of three graduated seniors, TD is expected to field up to five seniors, six juniors and several underclassmen, are looking to improve on a 6-6-3 record and No. 17 ranking last fall.
“I feel like we did have a lot of momentum built over the past two years with how well we played,” said midfielder Alberto Gallegos. “The time we spent playing together, I have been playing with them since I was like four, we have all just created a bond. That bond makes the momentum grow even more.”
Back in 2016, the Hawks gave up 52 goals, scored 20 and finished at 4-11, but a 2018 turnaround saw the team hit the back of the net 35 times, with the defense allowing 28 goals in 15 games.
TD also scored three goals against Hood River Valley, drew a 3-3 tie with league champion Ridgeview and fought to a 2-2 tie on a historic night game under the lights at Sid White Field versus the Eagles.
Aside from the beginning and the end of 2018, where TD posted a combined 2-6-1 record, the team hit a hot streak from Sept. 20 to Oct. 16 by going 5-0-2.
Although TD’s season ended after a 6-0 state-playoff loss on Oct. 30 in Corvallis, there are plenty of positives to build upon.
“We started off really slow, but then we started talking to each other more and that made the biggest difference,” said senior midfielder Andy Lopez. “And then we played the ball off each other better and we had a lot of possession at the end of the season, which helped us create a lot of scoring chances.”
Reed Twidwell, Jake Roetcisoender, Andy Lopez, Alex Gutierrez, Omar Torres and Julian Quintana as as well as Twidwell and Roetcisoender, both seniors, chalked up first-team Intermountain Conference honors for their league production.
Lopez and Gutierrez were on the second team, while junior defenders Torres and Quintana earned spots on the honorable mention list.
Finding suitable players to make up for the leadership of Roetcisoender, along with the 12 goals and four assists put up by Twidwell are going to be a big focus for the Riverhawks.
As a midfielder, Lopez added some edge and scoring punch with four goals and eight assists.
Gutierrez was a difficult player to move around with his size and toughness in the penalty area, as he wound up second on the team with 10 goals and an assist in his sophomore season.
“I feel like we are looking pretty good so far,” Gallegos said. “We just started our practices, so we haven’t had a lot of touches on the ball, but once we figure things out and get back into shape, I am expecting us to be very good.”
Defensively, The Dalles held opposing teams without a goal on four occasions, and in nine of 15 matches, they allowed two goals or fewer.
A big part of that output was the play of Quintana and Torres.
Torres, one of nine underclassmen on the varsity team in 2018, showed his worth and versatility by contributing two goals and an assist.
“I think our defense is very strong,” Lopez said. “We have two solid defenders in there, and we have a right back and a left back that are really strong. Our midfield can build off of them because we have been playing together for at least eight years, so we know each other’s game and how to play off each other very well.”
While coach Dallman and his assistant coach Emmanuel Elias establish a depth chart and put the right players in a position to help the team achieve success, Gallegos feels that getting off to a strong start in games is at the top of his priority list.
Following all-league awards as a freshman and sophomore, Gallegos is fully healthy after an injury-plagued 2018, and that should play a big part in the Hawks finding their collective grove early on.
If they can take another big step up in their results, this group can inch even closer to moving past the first round of the playoffs and challenging Ridgeview and Hood River Valley for the top spot in the IMC.
“From last year to this year, our goal is to win league,” Gallegos said. “It will take a lot of practice and all of us working hard on our game to make it happen. We need to improve our communication and get better with our positioning on the field. Those are the two things we have struggled with the most in my three years here. This year, we have been working on that a lot and you can see the difference in the way we have come out in our training.”
The Dalles had a jamboree Thursday in Oregon City and officially starts its regular season schedule with a home opener beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 4 versus Parkrose.