Coachella Valley’s Jose Castanos (9) tackles Palm Desert’s Gavin Kirk (19) during a match in Thermal on Tuesday.
Scott McKee left the Palm Desert High School boys’ soccer team last spring, briefly stepping down as the head coach. He ultimately returned before the start of this season, and did so at least in part because of the talent he had coming back.
With a lineup made up mostly of underclassmen, McKee figured he’d have a pretty good team in a year or two. But after a five-game win streak in the Desert Valley League last month, the coach discovered he may have initially underestimated his squad’s chances of winning big this season.
The Aztecs have only lost once since Dec. 21, including Tuesday’s night’s 3-0 win over Coachella Valley, and now have a chance to capture the school’s first DVL title in boys’ soccer in a winner-take-all match at La Quinta on Thursday.
“If you were to look back and look at our record through the first five games, there was cause for concern,” McKee said. “I think we were 1-4-1 at one point, we dropped four in a row at one point, guys were out of the lineup, and it took a while for us to find ourselves out here.”
On Tuesday, Palm Desert registered its fourth consecutive shutout and sophomore forward Jhonatan Urbina scored all three goals — all on headers — for a hat trick as Palm Desert advanced to 8-2-1 in league.
It’s a far cry from where the squad was midway through the season.
The Aztecs navigated one of the Coachella Valley’s toughest non-league schedules when they faced Shadow Hills, Desert Mirage and Rancho Mirage all before the Riverside Poly Tournament in mid-December.
Palm Desert was 2-7-1 through its first 10 games.
“A lot of those were one-goal games, and there’s no shame in that, be we had to find a way to be on the other side of that,” McKee said.
McKee said players began communicating better and though some players elevated their individual games, the team began operating more as a unit, which spurred the win streak.
Tuesday’s win was impressive in that Coachella Valley was also playing for something. With a win, the Arabs had a shot to move into third place if they could also pull off a win Thursday against rival Indio.
Instead, CV will need a win and hope that Palm Springs falters as the final week of the regular season comes to a close on Friday.
“I hate not knowing our fate,” Arabs head coach Adrian Barragan said. “It isn’t often that we’re in this position.”
Palm Desert, on the other hand, can control its own destiny. A win over La Quinta would not only secure the league title, but it would almost surely provide Palm Desert with a home postseason game, another first for the program.
Palm Desert’s Gerardo Serrano (6) and Coachella Valley’s Oscar Cervantes (3) battle for the ball during a match in Thermal on Tuesday.
Palm Desert’s lone league loss came on Jan. 19 against La Quinta, the defending California Interscholastic Federation champions, in what McKee said was probably his squad’s worst performance of the season.
McKee told his squad after that loss that if they played hard the rest of the way, the final game of the regular season at La Quinta would mean something.
The Aztecs have since tied Palm Springs and won four in a row.
“Here we are,” McKee said. “We have a shot, and I’m thrilled for the kids. The boys are finding confidence and they know they can do it.”
DVL BOYS’ SOCCER STANDINGS
La Quinta 8-2-1
Palm Desert 8-2-1
Coachella Valley 6-5
Palm Springs 5-3-3
Cathedral City 2-8-1
Xavier Prep 0-12-0
Palm Desert at La Quinta
Cathedral City at Palm Springs
Coachella Valley at Indio