Kaiser Kurexi began the season on the JV team for the Dos Pueblos High boys soccer program.
On Saturday, the junior midfielder kept the season going for the Chargers’ varsity side.
Kurexi scored in the 52nd minute and the DP defense did the rest in a 1-0 win over Artesia High in a CIF-Southern Section Division 3 second-round playoff match at Warkentin Stadium.
The Pioneers entered the match with an 18-3-3 record, having not lost since Dec. 4. They were 15-0-3 during that span.
“Artesia didn’t make it easy on us,” Dos Pueblos coach Matt York said. “They’re an incredible team. Their coach has them playing at a very high level, and they had some of the best left-footed shots I’ve ever seen.
“It seemed like they only had left-footers there for a while.”
York admitted that it presented a different look for his defense, as well as a mighty big challenge.
“It puts our defenders a little bit out of their comfort zone, because they’re used to defending right-footed players,” DP’s affable coach said. “A credit to our defense. I thought our MVPs were our senior center backs Mark Sotelo and Lucas Eilbacher.”
York also wasn’t at a loss for words when it came to praising his junior goalkeeper, Evan Steinberger, who made seven saves.
“He had been sitting a few games because his confidence really wasn’t there,” York said. “I talked to him pregame and I looked him in the eye, and he had that look like he was ready to go today.
“He showed it on the field. He was great.”
Dos Pueblos, which finished in third place in the competitive Channel League, opened the playoffs with a 4-2 win on the road at Hart on Thursday. It was the program’s first postseason victory since 2010, when the Chargers played in the CIF title game at UCSB’s Harder Stadium.
“To get one down at Hart, it was great, and then to get one here in front of our home fans was incredible,” York said. “I am so proud of this team.”
Saturday’s result was a very emotional one for DP, and that emotion for the players and coaches had as much to do with life as anything that took place on the field.
“We have a couple of players who have been through some personal tragedy this week, so they broke down in tears after the game,” York said.
“I’m getting a little emotional even as I speak.
“You can see all the effort that the kids put in all the time, and soccer can be a great escape for some, and it can also be a great healing mechanism.
“It was phenomenal for our team at an emotional level.”
The goal that sent the Chargers into the third round, came from a beautiful build out of the back that was started by DP’s left back, Hayden Carlson.
“Hayden played the ball down the line (on the left side) really nicely with pretty good pace on it,” York said.
It was a ball that got to midfield along the touchline, where Leo Rubio dribbled forward before delivering a cross into the 18-yard box.
Rubio’s cross, though, missed its initial target, and the Chargers looked like they would be turned away by a stifling Artesia defense.
That wasn’t the case.
Junior midfielder Nathan Lang was able to possess the ball along the right side of the penalty area for DP. Lang sent a short cross to the back post on the left side where, after the Pioneers were unable to clear it, Kurexi slotted it in for his second goal of the season on the varsity level.
“The ball was at our feet and we were attacking,” York said.
“We had guys in front (of the goal) who were in great position. It was a great cross by Leo from the left side that really got us started.
“He was on a full-sprint, and to be able to hit a beautiful ball across the face of the goal, it takes a high level of skill to do that.”
Artesia had a few chances against a stingy Charger defense.
But with great play by DP’s back line and Steinberger in goal, along with some shots that sailed wide or over the crossbar, it was shaping up to be a game that would come down to one mistake.
The Pioneers made it, and Kurexi was there to finish them, and their outstanding season.
“They could have had a couple go in, but today was our day,” York concluded.
Dos Pueblos plays at La Habra in a third-round match on Wednesday, with a time to be determined.