By: C. Harold Pierce
For years, Coach Jose Vasquez has drawn talent from a deep but informal farm system
Midfielder Ivan Bastida charges up the middle of the field, fending off two Cypress College defenders. Without looking back, Bastida instinctively coasts the ball back to midfielder Uriel Rebollar, anticipating his position on the field to make a break for the goal.
The easy back and forth between the players doesn’t come from running plays during practice, but playing high school soccer together.
“Most teams have to work a little more to get that chemistry, and we don’t. We have that advantage over every team. That’s what gives us the edge,” Rebollar said.
Big league teams call players up from the minors, the NFL recruits from the South Eastern Conference, and Santa Ana College’s soccer program has Katella High School.
This year, 10 out of the 29 players on the Dons soccer team graduated from Katella.
And it’s not a coincidence.
Head Coach Jose Vasquez coached the Knights for seven years, establishing the same rigorous training program at Katella that the Dons go through in college.
Vasquez, who played soccer professionally from 1991 to 2004, would train on Katella’s track during the off-season.
One day in 2005, a Katella player recognized him as a forward for the LA Galaxy.
He asked Vasquez to help out the high school’s subpar squad.
“The next day, I had two kids, then four kids, and eventually I had the whole team watching me train,” Vasquez said. “I felt so bad for these kids, I said ‘OK., I’ll help them out.’”
They had been coached by an art teacher who filled in at the time.
Vasquez lead Katella to two CIF championships in his tenure as head coach. Since then , the Knights have been
a constant source of talent for the Dons championship teams, Vasquez said.
There have never been more recruits from Katella than this year’s class.
“Most of the other schools are not organized. You have kids who are going crazy on the ball, and you come to a place like this, and it’s tactical. Everyone has a responsibility and duties,” Vasquez said.
Juan Martinez, a former Don goalkeeper from 2000 now coaches the Knights and keeps an eye out for talented players to send to SAC, Vasquez said.
“He kind of funnels them to us now,” Vasquez said, adding that he took a break from coaching at Katella because his son plays for the team.
Four years ago, Bastida caught Vasquez’s eye as a freshman at Katella.
Bastida was recruited when he graduated this year as a 17-year-old.
“He was incredible for being so young and so small. I never thought he would be a starter this soon. He’s the youngest kid on our squad, and he’s been starting every game since pre-season till now,” Vasquez said.
The established off-field camaraderie translates into playing strategies that are second nature to the Dons defense, for which most of the former Knights play.
Depending on when they graduated, most former Knights played on the same team together for two or three years before SAC.
“He [Rebollar] is usually the one behind me making the runs,” Bastida said. “I could just send him the ball and know he’s going to
Despite the appearance of a clique, the former Katella players don’t exclude others from their group.
“Being part of the family, we create a core as a team, and every new player gets to gel in real nice,” defender Kevin Ruiz said.
27 : Number of Katella players who have played with the Dons since 2004.
10: Former Knights playing for the Dons this season.
7: Years that Coach Jose Vasquez led the Katella Knights from 2005 to 2012.