LA CRESCENTA — Over the last 10 postseason matches for the Crescenta Valley High boys' soccer team, which included a run to a CIF Southern Section Division IV championship in 2012, nine of the Falcons' contests were decided by just one goal.
An astoundingly dramatic – yet successful – run to say the least.
But on a cold and windy afternoon Wednesday at Crescenta Valley High, the Falcons felt the sting of being on the wrong end of a one-goal conclusion and the subsequent end of the season to go with it.
Doomed by a handball in the goalbox with just under 10 minutes remaining it their CIF Southern Section Division III second-round game, the Falcons lost on the strength of the ensuing penalty kick to fall to visiting fourth-seeded Century, 2-1.
“That’s a tough one,” said Falcons Coach Grant Clark, whose team also reached the finals of the CIF Southern California Division I Regional Championships last season where it fell, 2-1, to Paramount for its other one-goal loss to seven one-goal wins in its last 10 playoff matches dating back to last season. “Especially with 10 minutes to go, when it’s that late in the game, it’s tough to come back. The ref made a judgment call and we have to live with it for the next nine months.”
The handball came after a Century throw-in in its attacking third took a bounce and hit the forearm of a Falcon, who had his arms down at his waist. Century’s Ronaldo Pineda calmly went low and to the left with his penalty kick, which evaded the best efforts of Falcons keeper Josh Cook’s diving attempt and led to the end of the Falcons’ season, one in which they went 19-4-7 and finished second in the Pacific League.
“You go 19-4-7, a lot of teams would be pretty happy with that,” said Clark, whose team went 23-1-6 a season ago and lost a cavalcade of talented seniors from last year’s squad. “We put together two really good years where we lost a total of five games.”
Down, 1-0, in the second half, Crescenta Valley finally began to assert control in terms of the run of the game, though it continued, for the most part to play longball.
“Usually we’re a lot more methodical coming down the side,” Clark said. “When we let a team dictate how we play, we don’t play to our potential.”
Still, the Falcons began to find success and momentum by playing the ball over the top and making runs, as seven offsides calls had slowed them down in the first half and negated a Justin Wright game-tying score. In the second half, though, the Falcons were whistled for just three such calls.
“We play a flat-four with an offsides trap,” said Century Coach Bruce Silverman, whose team improved to 13-9-4. “It’s very effective when it’s being called close.”
Also effective was Century’s speed, quickness and possession passing, as it dominated possession and run of play and had the Falcons on their heels and largely kicking, clearing and playing defense in the opening half. Century opened up a 1-0 lead off a free kick by Jose Luis Hernandez from roughly 40 yards out that was run onto by Jesus Rojas, who booted in a low shot in the fifth minute.
Century fired off eight shots with the swirling wind at its back in the first half, with Cook making four saves and the Falcons countering with just three shots.
As the second half began with the wind behind the Falcons, as aforementioned, they began to control the run of play.
“Once we had the win behind us, it made a difference,” Clark said.
Finally making a difference in the 61st minute on the scoreboard, as Rani Dimashki played a beautiful high ball up in front of a charging Pablo Sotillo, who carried down into the goal box, juked inside, dribbled in, gathered himself and let fly on a brilliant shot that went right and high after he had goalie Edgar Espinosa going the opposite way.
Ponce was a hindrance throughout, though, as his aggressive play thwarted many a run and cross and made a huge leaping save on the Falcons’ greatest chance at tying the game at 2 when a throw-in from Erick Trejo was flicked high and on frame by Pablo Hernandez. Thereafter, with time ticking away, the Falcons brought everybody up, including Cook, into the box for a Wright free kick. The kick led to a pair of Falcons throw-ins, but the sequence never produced a shot before Century dribbled away possession as the whistle blew.
“It was kind of an ugly second half for us. We were fortunate. If we don’t get that PK, something would’ve happened,” Silverman said. “In the second half, we started playing longball with them.”
Ultimately, it was enough, or at least played a hand in concluding the season for the Falcons.
“That’s a good team,” Clark said of Century, “they play well, they play hard.”