Horns Look To Improve

Boys soccer team should be stronger with return of several players

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Chris Avakian says you have to look past the 1-6-1 record.

He believes his Payson boys soccer team can improve on a slow start and finish strong.

“We’ve had a lot of injuries and a lot of kids don’t have their grades where they need to be,” the coach said. “The last couple of games we’ve been playing half a JV team and half a varsity team. We’ll be getting back to full strength.”

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Payson’s Nathan Cluff (17) and Gabe Hernandez surround Snowflake’s Kegan Kay as the Longhorns’ Trevor Clawson looks on during the Lobos’ 4-0 win on Thursday.

He said three starters who’ve missed most of the season are due back soon.

Junior Felix Cruz is returning from an ankle injury suffered in the Show Low Invitational held Sept. 13-14. “He’s a three-year starter and one of our big guns,” the coach said. “He plays midfield, defense, anywhere and everywhere.”

Sophomore goalkeeper Jacob Avakian has been out since suffering a concussion in the season-opener against Show Low on Sept. 11. “He just got cleared to come back Friday, so he’ll be back Monday (Sept. 30),” his father said.

Avakian’s return means sophomore captain Gerardo Moceri can go back to his normal position. He’s been playing goalie in Avakian’s absence.

“We can move Gerardo out of the goal and put him on the field where he’s a playmaker; where we need him,” the coach said. “He sees the field better than anybody we have.”

Senior defender Austin Armstead returned to action in the Longhorns’ 4-0 loss to Snowflake on Thursday after sitting for academic reasons.

And senior forward Cody Shepard missed a 9-0 loss at Chino Valley on Sept. 21 after receiving a red card.

“I had like five or six kids out and they’ll all be back,” the coach said.

He said it will be great to finally have his squad back together.

“We can finally have a practice with our full team and get back to full strength,” Avakian said.

The Longhorns play at Phoenix Country Day at 6 p.m. today and entertain Grand Canyon at 7 p.m. Thursday before playing in four games in the Old Pueblo Tournament hosted by Tucson Desert Christian this weekend.

He said his players are just looking to improve.

“The boys understand that they’re young,” the coach said. “The boys just look at is as we’ve won certain games we need to win and the others we’ve been competitive in. That’s the way we’re going about it, it’s a workman-like team.”

He said the Horns are better than their record might indicate. “OK, some teams beat us,” he said. “But that was not our real team.”

He said he’s looking forward to the Old Pueblo as a team-building experience.

“I usually just go to the tournament looking to bond as a team and have the boys become more of a team for the second half of the season,” Avakian said. “We should be getting all of our players back and making a run.”

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