There's nothing complicated about how Catlin Gabel's boys soccer team has dominated its opponents this season, outscoring them 86-7 to finish the regular season with a 13-0 record.
“The thing about this squad is they're really strong at the back and really strong at the front,” said Eagles coach Peter Shulman, whose team is No. 1 in the OSAAtoday 3A/2A/1A coaches poll. “And you can cause a lot of problems for teams with those two strengths.”
Catlin Gabel, which won the last two 3A/2A/1A championships in 2018 and 2019, has yet to be seriously challenged.
The Eagles throttled No. 2 Riverside 8-0, handing the Pirates their only loss. And they brushed off their main rivals in Special District 1, beating No. 6 Oregon Episcopal 4-0 and 3-1 and No. 4 Riverdale 3-0.
Foes have struggled to generate any sort of an attack against Catlin Gabel, whose starting goalkeeper, senior Dillon George, has given up just two goals all season.
“When we get it in the back and possess it, and work it, other teams just aren't getting the ball very much,” Shulman said. “They're constantly having to deal with some dangerous guys up front. We've been able to dominate possession against everybody.”
Catlin Gabel has a potent combination in its front line with seniors Felipe Rueda Duran (31 goals) and Elijah Widdows (17 goals). They have signed to play at NCAA Division III colleges in Maine, Rueda Duran at Bowdoin and Widdows at Colby.
“They've been scoring in buckets,” Shulman said. “They've got very good timing with each other.”
Rueda Duran, a fourth-year starter, scored 32 goals as a sophomore in 2019 but was injured in the spring and missed all but the final three games. He is back to full strength and as explosive as ever, scoring in every match so far.
“He's just a very, very difficult guy to contain,” Shulman said. “He's the best scorer I've ever coached. It's not even close. Generally in the big games, he scores, and he scores pretty amazing goals. He can hit a shot from a long way out. He's very fast, and he's a very creative and tricky player.”
The back line is held together by senior Joshua Hamlett, who is back after missing the spring season. Junior Maxim Kim, senior Evan Williams and sophomore Raul Rendon Benitez have combined with Hamlett to form an often impenetrable barrier.
“They're all very tough one-v-one, but they're all good on the ball,” Shulman said. “So we're able to possess the ball on the back and bring it down. Very rarely do they just clear it.”
The Eagles, who went 19-0 in 2019 to win their 13th state championship, had a modest 6-2-3 record in the spring. They lost and tied matches against Oregon Episcopal and tied Riverdale.
But they have taken it up a notch this season. They have trailed only once, giving up the first goal to Oregon Episcopal before winning 3-1 on Oct. 1. The 3-0 win over Riverdale on Oct. 12 “was probably our best performance so far this year,” according to Shulman.
Catlin Gabel jumped all over Riverside early in the 8-0 home win Sept. 18.
“Teams that haven't seen us, by the time they figure out the adjustments, they're in the hole,” Shulman said. “The teams in our district have a pretty good idea of what we have and how to play against us.”
Catlin Gabel also is No. 1 in the OSAA power rankings, followed by No. 2 Riverdale (8-1), No. 3 Brookings-Harbor (11-1) and No. 4 Riverside (12-1). Oregon Episcopal (9-4), the state runner-up to Catlin Gabel in 2018 and 2019, is No. 7.
The Eagles will be heavy favorites entering the state playoffs. They can't afford to get complacent.
“That's the trick,” said Shulman, who has led Catlin Gabel to three state titles since taking over as coach in 2013. “There are definitely some teams out there that are opportunistic that are going to make it hard for us. We have to be quite mentally alert. But I think we've made some nice strides in that category.”