The trip to California over winter break might not have served the Desert Vista boys soccer well as far as winning percentage goes, but that’s never what the annual pilgrimage west is about anyway.

It’s about improving via tough competition, team bonding and putting themselves in position for a second-half run.

After going 3-0 at the start of last week, including Thursday’s 3-1 win at Mountain Pointe, the dividends from the trip might be showing up already.

The Thunder (6-6-1, 4-2 in power rankings games) got two goals by Nick Mangialardi, the first off a first-half penalty kick and the second a thing of beauty as he dribbled up the right side while beating several Pride defenders, and another by Lorenz Delany for the win.

“This was probably our best complete game,” said Thunder coach Mike Rabasca, whose squad went 0-2-1 in California. “(The trip) always helps because we spend so much time together.”

The Thunder, who play at Brophy on Tuesday and host Desert Mountain on Wednesday, are not at the level of last year’s state runner-up squad but have the usual makings of a Desert Vista squad as the Thunder seem to always be stronger at the end of the year.

A close look at the results in California at the SoCal High School Classic, where the Thunder went 0-2-1, showed they are right there with some tough competition.

“We played well, really,” Rabasca said. “We lost the first two games in the last five minutes. So we were right there.”

The Thunder returned a good core of players from last season’s state finalist team and some younger players are contributing quality minutes as Brandon Johnson, Duncan Ugland, Lucas Selman, Lorenz Delany, Cameron Rabasca, Andrew Sweeney and others have the Thunder riding a three-match win streak.

The difference makers on the team are forward Nicholas Mangialardi and goalie Tim O’Brien. These two are among the best in the state, but the Thunder are at their best when they are not relying on individuals to win matches.

Mangialardi, who has seven goals in the postseason last year, had a great individual effort for a goal against Mountain Pointe when he took the ball on the Thunder’s side of the field, dribbled around and through three Pride defenders and beat the Pride goalie with a shot to the top left side of the pipes.

“He’s a good player,” said Rabasca, who doesn’t let his players talk to the media during the season. “He’s like the team. There is a lot of inconsistency. Sometimes he’s trying to do too much in a team sport. The goals (against MP) were reflective of a team effort, doing his part as a forward.”

“We’ve had too many times this year where we’ve had players trying to put the team on their back. That’s great in one respect and in the other respect we’ve always done better when we are working as a team.”

O’Brien plays much bigger than the 5-foot-8, 145-pounds he is listed as on the team’s roster.

“Tim gets hits more and more in the high school game (because of the small field) then in club,” Rabasca said. “Tim comes up with the big saves. Tim generally can do that. In general his profile is he can make those plays. It lasts only so long but it can be an inspiring moment.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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