The Dalles versus Hood River Valley, boys soccer

HRV No. 21 Cody Cornejo dribbles the ball up the field during the 2021 season.     

Apologies in advance for mixing baseball - and a little later, boxing - with soccer, but here goes anyway. The late, great baseball icon Yogi Berra once said, redundantly: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Yogi wasn’t describing Hood River Valley’s boys soccer team, but he very well could have been.

The Eagles under Coach Jaime Rivera are one of the more redundantly successful high school programs in the state and there’s good reason to believe they will again challenge for Class 5A supremacy this fall. The Eagles have been the dominant force in the Intermountain Conference and prior to that the Columbia River Conference for more than a decade.

HRV’s talent pool is such this season that Rivera has switched his formation for the first time to a 3-5-2 setup – and he did so at the behest of his players.

“They came to me and said, ‘Hey, let’s try something different’,” Rivera said of the five-midfielder set. “Where I am at in my coaching career, it’s really more about the effort we put into it. This year I saw something in the guys and there’s some really talented players. I have never done this in my 12 years as head coach.

“I told them, ‘I’m going to let you guys help decide.’ It gives them a little more ownership. I’m really feeling good about that.”

And this isn’t a program teetering on the edge, in need of a change. HRV has qualified for the OSAA state playoffs for 14 straight seasons, starting in 2006 (other than last year’s COVID interrupted year). Included in that run were back-to-back state championships in 2014 and 2015.

Seventy-three players showed up for tryouts two weeks ago and the school’s three teams are 20-plus players deep. The varsity lineup will include first-team all-league midfielder Jaden Dubon, second-team pick Milo Clarkson at forward and honorable mention midfielder Cody Cornejo. Anchoring the backline is 6-foot-4 defender Robert Rowan.

“These are all guys who have played varsity soccer, some of them starting as freshmen and all of them at least as sophomores,” Rivera said of the four seniors.

Added to the mix is German exchange student Eric Langlouis, who scored the Eagles’ first goal at a home jamboree this past week against Nelson High of Clackamas.

Despite the quality returnees, Rivera said he will be playing a number of sophomores on varsity. “It’s actually a young team,” he said. “I’ve never had this many sophomores (five) on the team at the same time. Three or four years ago we were in a similar situation.”

There will be plenty of challenges ahead, including the first couple of weeks of the season when the Eagles will face a juggernaut of a non-league schedule. That’s just fine with the HRV coach, as it will get the Eagles ready for Ridgeview – the team which won the IMC tournament this past shortened spring season – and The Dalles, which tied HRV in their regular-season match.

Rivera, who is known to shell out a few dollars occasionally to watch Pay-per-view boxing cards, will have a couple of headliners on his hands the next few weeks. First up was an August 31 trip to 6A Barlow, followed in successive weeks by matches against West Albany (Sept. 9), Hillsboro (Sept. 14), and La Salle (Sept. 21). Play in the six-team IMC begins with a Sept. 23 home rematch of last year’s district tourney title game showdown – Ridgeview vs. HRV on the Henderson Stadium turf.

“We’re looking forward to the season,” Rivera said. “It’s good to be back out there again.”