Landon Donovan, an Olympian and World Cup soccer player, not to mention a multiple-winning Honda Player of the Year in Major Soccer League play, was on the field during an unforgettable CIF-Southern Section high school playoff match back in 1996.
Donovan was a freshman midfield sensation who would eventually be named his league’s Most Valuable Player. On this March afternoon, in a match played on the school’s JV football field – corner of Citrus and University – Alta Loma High School was the visiting side.
The place was packed. People everywhere. Spectators lined up around the field six or seven deep. Parking was impossible. Assigned to cover the match, I could barely get a place to view the match myself. I needed a perfect viewing position. Unobstructed. When I did manage to find a spot, it was next to an Alta Loma player’s mother.
Her name was Kelly. Nice lady. Alta Loma had won the CIF Southern Section football championship a few months earlier. Plenty of the kids on the Braves’ soccer team played on that team. In Kelly’s mom, this match against Redlands would be no contest.
Kelly’s son was Carlos Bocanegra.
Donovan and Bocanegra on the same field. Opposite sides. Two players who would eventually play together on the same U.S. Olympic and World Cup teams. Bocanegra, like Donovan, was a future big-time player in his own right.
That high school match itself was a classic. It was like a mini-World Cup match.
Redlands won, eventually, on penalty kicks. Terrier goalkeeper Jerad Bailey (who had a future great career at Loyola Marymount University) emerged a hero, having stopped some critical shot attempts by the visiting Braves, including during the penalty kick phase of the match.
The following year, Donovan had wound up at Redlands East Valley High School, its first year of existence. Midway through his sophomore season, though, the 16-year-old signed a professional contract to play in Europe.
A pro soccer career was underway.