The Mustangs are trying to find a go-to goal scorer.
The Lakewood Ranch High boys soccer team is entering familiar territory.
The Mustangs, as has been the case the last few seasons, are nationally ranked by MaxPreps, sitting at No. 54 overall and No. 7 in the Florida High School Athletic Association's Class 7A as of Dec. 10. They are 8-0, and have allowed more than one goal in a game once, during a 4-2 road win against Clearwater Central Catholic on Nov. 20.
"That stuff is great," Mustangs coach Vito Bavaro said. "But am I happy with how we have played? No. I'm never happy."
Bavaro has seen his talented teams fall short in the postseason, coming achingly close to a state title in 2016-2017, losing 1-0 to Cypress Bay High in the championship match. Last season, the Mustangs spent time ranked No. 1 in the state by MaxPreps, but bowed out of the playoffs with a 2-0 loss to Lake Mary High in the regional finals.
Bavaro said this season's Mustangs have to solve an issue that has plagued them for a long time: Finding a legitimate scoring threat.
"We should be blowing out teams, but we are winning by one or two goals," Bavaro said. "It has been a lot of trial and error up front. I think we have tried seven different things at this point."
The latest trial has been the most successful. Senior Mustang Jacob Jordan has moved from midfield to forward. He's never played the position before for Lakewood Ranch, but he is thriving.
In the Mustangs' games against Riverview on Dec. 5 and Manatee on Dec. 10, Jordan had a hand in all six Mustangs goals (four goals, two assists). He has 10 goals overall.
Bavaro said he has had to create a scorer on past teams as well, including switching former star Pablo Vargas, now at Daytona State, from left back to striker. Vargas had 22 goals and six assists during Lakewood Ranch's state runner-up season. Bavaro said there is no trick to identifying which players would make good strikers. It is a gut feeling.
You watch a player, Bavaro said, and you see something — an "it factor" — that tells you they should be up front. Sometimes it does not work, but other times, like with Jordan, it soars.
It is still to be determined whether Jordan can reach Vargas' numbers, but he is off to a fast start, and Bavaro said like he likes his ability to finish plays. Jordan said his field awareness allows him to get off good shots when he is open and to pass when he is not.
The good news? He will not be alone on the scoring front. The Mustangs may not (yet) have an elite scorer, but they have plenty of players who can net a goal in a pinch, including senior forward Gio Christiano, senior midfielder Caden Schwarz and junior midfielder Sam Leavy.
"We are missing some guys from last year who were just straight athletes," Jordan said. "We had to adjust to using our skills as opposed to our athleticism, but I think we are doing well with that. Our goal is to go as far as we can and that means winning states. I think we have what it takes."