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The Patriot emblem stitched into the Birmingham boys soccer warm-ups has four stars above it — one for each Los Angeles City Section title the program has won.
Birmingham almost added a fifth star last season, but lost in the Division I championship game 2-1 to South East.
With a senior-laden roster this season, there’s heightened urgency to win it all.
“We understand it’s most of our last years,” said senior Diego Ceja. “So we’re all trying to make it make it worth it, since most of us are not going to be here next year.”
The Patriots have scored 109 goals in 20 games this season and went 8-0-2 in West Valley League play to win the league title. Their top-scoring players are seniors Oscar Vargas and Jerry Ramos with 21 goals apiece, followed by Ceja with 14 goals.
Vargas is the team’s finisher, and his teammates and coach, EB Madha, have confidence in his ability to find space. Vargas also thinks quickly when taking shots and scored within the first two minutes in an 8-0, league-opening win against Granada Hills.
“I’m just always looking around, making sure to find the right areas,” Vargas said. “But I can’t have that many goals without my teammates being able to put the ball where it’s supposed to be. I’m just here to finish it.”
Thirteen players have scored at least two goals for Birmingham this season, showing that the scoring comes from every third of the field.
“Our game plan is always offensive-minded,” Madha said. “This is the first year we’ve had offensive-minded players from the back line to the front line. They’re all capable of scoring.”
Birmingham returned five starters this season and added three transfers. They’re all skilled, but getting everyone to mesh took effort. Team bonding efforts outside of practice, like going to Dave & Buster’s and the beach, brought the team closer together. Alumni also come back to impress on current players the importance of Birmingham’s high standard.
The occasional argument naturally ensued, but players have grown from them. Now instead of shutting down in the face of conflict, they’re able to learn from each other.
“We’re not trying to put them down, we’re trying to help them so we can achieve a goal together,” Ceja said. “A harsh response is coming from caring about them and wanting them to improve.”
There are 13 seniors on this year’s team, and there’s also a determined group of underclassmen. Sophomores Adrian Diaz and Steven Ramos are starters who also started as freshmen.
They experienced a championship loss in their first year with the team, something that stuck with them. Ramos said he remembers a quiet bus ride home after the game, but once the next season started the Patriots were looking forward.
“I know how heartbreak feels,” Ramos said. “Beginning of this season, we played a few scrimmages and we saw were good. We think we can win this season.”
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Birmingham won its last City Section Division I championship in 2021. It’ll begin its journey to regain the title Wednesday against South East, the same team that denied the Patriots last season.
The players seem confident and even talk about winning a state title, which would be a gold star above the Patriots logo on their warm-ups. But South East comes first.
“I like to keep them focused on one game at a time. I’ve been coaching this game for a long, long time and I know best team doesn’t always win,” Madha said. “But I do love the fact that they have high ambitions.”