Loyola and Cathedral soccer stay true to international game

The last rays of sun shine across the grass. Stripes of orange and pink dance across it, intertwining across the Los Angeles skyline and disappearing behind the concrete jungle that unfolds beneath Cathedral High’s football field.

The Wilshire Grand Center rises to the east. As night falls, City Hall lights up in the distance. Treasured so much by the Cathedral congregation, this vista, the field that hugs the winding hill up to Dodger Stadium, is a sacred slice of Los Angeles.

And football, that burgeoning inner-city rivalry between neighboring Cathedral and Loyola, is a sacred part of the world.

During Thanksgiving week, Loyola assistant coach and soccer alumnus Marvin Mires flew to Qatar for the World Cup wearing a Loyola soccer jersey. He watched 15 games in six days, rode public transit around the city, and walked about 12 miles each day.

His feet got blisters. His shins hurt. But this was a chance to learn, to grow, to study elements of international play and synthesize them with the Cubs style.

Ahead of Saturday night’s so-called ‘Downtown World Cup’, Mires spoke to his players about the formation used by the Netherlands in the 3-1 World Cup win over the USA, the same formation Loyola used at times early in the season. It’s 5-3-2 – five players behind instead of three or four.

“The coach of Holland [Louis Van Gaal], at the end of the game, said, ‘You know, the US hasn’t been able to adapt to our system,'” Mires said. “And it did, and that’s one of the reasons why the US lost.”

Even when Cathedral’s Alexander Bastidas scored a late goal in the 1-0 win over Loyola, Phantoms coach Arturo Lopez admitted that Loyola’s five-man formation initially threw Cathedral away. Other elements of the global game were evident on Saturday, two programs that teach the value of passing and connecting rather than the longball that has come to dominate US youth football.

“I’m very committed to the development of this game in the US and one of my goals is to try and get everyone playing and developing right,” Mires said. “Because if the rest of the world is doing it, then why aren’t we, right?”

Cathedral High players warm up before taking on Loyola.

Cathedral players warm up before taking on inner city rivals Loyola on Saturday night.

(Luca Evans/Los Angeles Times)

The Downtown World Cup began in 2018 when Loyola defeated Cathedral in the State Division I regional playoffs. The game the rivals are playing is beautiful because of its aesthetic, Lopez said.

“We both play a very expansive style of football, expansive and forward-thinking,” Lopez said.

As high school football in the United States increasingly moves toward “kickball,” as Mires put it, Loyola and Cathedral preach passing. Connect. Estimating possession rather than a home run is what Mires calls “archaic.”

“The schools in LA – us, Loyola and also Salesians – have a certain style of play where we move the ball,” said Bastidas. “We don’t just compete for a long time. We like to play this beautiful football.”

This “beautiful football” is what Mires observed in Qatar as the general trend of the international game. Around the world, Mires said, the game is taught with more play “from behind,” where near defenders make themselves available for short passes from the goaltender rather than a long punt into the field.

That’s not the case with youth in the United States, said the Loyola assistant.

“What is the end goal of all this – football as a country?” said Mires. “It’s for our country to go to a World Cup and win, right? And everyone has to be on the same page, from the U7s and the U8s through to college.

“But we’re not there as a country to have an identity and a culture for how things should be played.”

That identity, that culture, is taught at Cathedral and Loyola. Players tried the occasional long kick on Saturday night, but the game turned into a defensive battle with the two schools battling for control.

No dangerous shot was registered in the first half. Loyola’s five-back formation, Lopez said, struggled to accommodate Cathedral, and the game opened up in the second half as the Cubs began to dominate possession and create downfield looks.

Cathedral coach Arturo Torres watches from the touchline as the players battle for control of the ball.

Cathedral coach Arturo Torres watches from the sidelines as his players from the Phantoms and rival Cubs battle for control of the ball.

(Luca Evans/Los Angeles Times)

It was a strategy they hadn’t seen from Loyola before, Lopez said, a new concept that clearly shows the influence of the international game.

“What you’re seeing is a lot of formal and tactical changes, which is pretty intriguing for a coach,” Lopez said. “You definitely think, ‘Okay, what’s the next wave?'”

However, Cathedral fought back and began to break through the Loyola defense on the touchline to take back-to-back corner kicks at one point in the second half. In the 80th minute, Bastidas found an opportunity, cutting through the middle and sinking a kick into the left corner of the net while the entire Cathedral squad ran off the bench to bully him on the touchline.

Cathedral offense, Lopez said, is innate. That’s been the way they’ve trained for a long time, even as other Southern Section Division 1 programs have transitioned to more aggressive play. That makes both programs special, Mires said, teaching this system of cohesion and not chaos.

“Not every school,” Bastidas said of the styles of the programs, “could make it.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/highschool/story/2022-12-04/loyola-cathedral-high-school-soccer-international-game Loyola and Cathedral soccer stay true to international game

Emma Bowman

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