COSTA MESA — Coach Robert Castellano has told his players that they're all important and he needs each one of them to do their part.
He's not kidding. Everyone on the team gets to play.
With only 15 players, the Estancia High boys' soccer team is thin. The program began the season with 20 players, but three players have been lost to injuries and two players because they had to get jobs.
At halftime of the Eagles' match on Friday, they lost another player. Castellano said Chris Gomez, the team's leading goal scorer last season, had to leave because of work.
Gomez's second appearance with the Eagles this season was short lived. They missed him against Saddleback in a key Orange Coast League match.
Without Gomez, the Eagles were unable to create many scoring chances in the second half and they lost at home, 1-0. The setback knocked Estancia out of first place and moved Saddleback into a first-place tie.
What concerned Castellano was the effort his team gave after the Roadrunners took the lead in the 44th minute.
"It looks like we just didn't want to play after [that]," said Castellano, who let his players know exactly how he felt late in the match.
He questioned them, yelling, "We don't want to play anymore?"
Whether fatigue might have been an issue for his team's play down the stretch, Castellano downplayed it. The match was too crucial to give excuses.
The Eagles (7-5-3, 2-2-0 in league) were going against the defending league champion Roadrunners for the first time this season. They had momentum going into the showdown, having won two league matches in a row.
Saddleback, ranked No. 9 in the CIF Southern Section Division 5 poll, only had one win to show in its first three league matches. Picking up the second win on the road at Estancia gave the Roadrunners back their confidence.
"We didn't start the [league] season the way we would've liked to," said Coach Mel Silva, whose Roadrunners improved to 2-1-1 in league and share first with Godinez. "We had a great preseason. We faced some Division 1 teams and we played really well against them. When we started league, we lost the opener [to] Laguna Beach, and it just set us back. I think we were rushing everything after that the next two games.
"Today, it just reinforces to them that they are a quality team and they can play with quality [teams], but they have to come ready to play."
Saddleback survived a first half in which Estancia dominated for the most part and went into the break even.
In the second half, the visitors owned it. Four minutes into the half, Mario Guerrero broke a scoreless tie with a goal. He finished a sweet pass from Garry Carbajal. The Roadrunners took advantage of what Castellano called a mental mistake in the back.
"It turned the whole game around," Castellano said of the defensive breakdown leading to the goal. "They got that goal and they got all the confidence in the world."
The Eagles, on the other hand, fell apart. They appeared to have lacked confidence and an offensive threat.
Castellano tried to find one, using Abraham Cortez, Anthony Pastrana and Cristian Montillo at striker after Gomez's departure. None of them could attack the Roadrunners and keeper Ivan Zamora, who finished with 11 saves in the shutout.
The match turned out to be the sixth in which Estancia has been held scoreless this season. A big reason why Gomez is back at Estancia is due to the team's offensive struggles and depleted roster.
"He came out [for the team before the season]," Castellano said of Gomez, who scored 10 goals last season and shared the Orange Coast League Offensive MVP award. "He stopped coming. He tried coming out again [before the season started]. I told him, 'Hey, we're not on your watch.'
"[His teammates] weren't so willing to take him back in the beginning of the season. This time of the year, they felt like they needed him. They know the season is running out of time. They know that he could help the team."
Castellano said he hopes Gomez can play full matches the rest of the way, instead of just half of them because of work. He needs Gomez as much as he needs the other 14 players on the team to contribute.