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CV's man in the middle

Falcons senior standout Alex Berger is a reigning All-CIF and All-Area pick with 26 assists this season.

February 20, 2012|By Charles Rich, charles.rich@latimes.com

Just a throw-in away from the Crescenta Valley High soccer field are several concrete walls. Most of the time, nearby residents occupy the territory to smash or loft tennis balls.

For Crescenta Valley boys' soccer player Alex Berger, he's got other ideas concerning how to use the walls to help him improve athletically.

Over the past couple of seasons, the standout senior midfielder has spent several hours a week practicing free kicks against the wall. He's found a target on the walls, pretending that it's a teammate.

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"I get out on the weekend for about an hour or two and keep practicing it because it's an important part of the game," Berger said.

Berger should know. In a CIF Southern Section Division IV first-round home match against Laguna Beach on Thursday, Berger lined a 40-yard free kick that teammate Pavle Atanackovic headed in to give the third-seeded Falcons a 3-2 overtime victory.

Thanks to a fine play by Berger, a reigning All-Area first-team honoree, third-seeded Crescenta Valley (17-0-6) will meet Diamond Bar (11-9-2) in a second-round home match at 3 p.m. today.

Entering today's contest, Berger has registered eight goals and a team-best 26 assists for 44 points. No assist was bigger than on Atanackovic's goal Thursday.

"It's got a lot to do with experience," said Berger, who collected four goals and 15 assists last season and helped the Falcons advance to the quarterfinals. "You figure when you get in that situation that you feel like you always have a chance to score, especially with a guy like Pavle being there."

The UC Irvine-bound Atanackovic got around a Laguna Beach defender and headed the ball past goalkeeper Alec Williams for the winning goal three minutes into sudden-death overtime. Berger was one of the final Crescenta Valley players to join the brief celebration with his teammates at the corner of the field.

Atanackovic, who is the reigning All-Area Player of the Year, said only Berger could have made the accurate free kick.

"He's the facilitator of this team," said Atanackovic, who has notched a school-record 36 goals. "He distributes the ball well and he's also able to get our defense going when needed.

"He's someone whose got a lot of soccer experience. Soccer has basically been his whole life."

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