By JEFF HARA, BELLARMINE COLLEGE PREP
February 26, 2013
With less than five minutes left, Archbishop Mitty still had nothing on Santa Clara, and Mitty did not want to go into a penalty-kick shootout, which could easily go either way.
The Monarchs had come a long way to make it here, and time was of the essence. With a last-minute effort, the Monarchs scored twice to win the second-round CCS match match 2-0.
The Bruins (13-7-2) had been competitive against the No. 1 seed until a foul just outside of the penalty box gave Mitty (16-1-7) a direct free kick in the 77th. For Andres Ochoa, the outcome of the game and, to some extent, of the season rested on his shot. As Mitty’s sideline held their collective breath, Ochoa lofted the ball beyond the keeper’s reach and into the back of the net. A set piece at a late stage in the game is always nerve-wracking, but Ochoa’s impeccable shot gave Mitty the lead 1-0.
A couple possessions later, Mitty disrupted Santa Clara’s defenses, allowing junior Eric Espinoza another goal-scoring opportunity. The ball was not cleared from safety, and Espinoza made Santa Clara pay for its defensive lapse, finalizing the score 2-0 with only a minute of regulation time to go.
“The chances came out of nowhere,” Espinoza said. “At the beginning of the season, I thought I would be more of a goal-scorer, but I started to become more of a provider. But when I get chances, I try to make the most out of them.”
Mitty, as most anticipated, won the match, but it was not so easy.
Emmanuel Hamzat, Santa Clara’s goal-scoring machine, had the speed and footwork to terrorize the Mitty defense on his own. The Bruins’ solid defense was generally very good about closing down on Mitty’s forward Tanner Haas and other offensive strikes.
Initially, the Monarchs dominated. Although they owned time of possession and showed tremendous individual talent, they ran the ball down the right side, again and again and again. Pretty soon, the Santa Clara defenders prevented Mitty from creating any real chances to score.
However, in one impressive series of events, Espinoza’s corner kick in the 19th minute was poorly directed by a header to where Haas was positioned. Haas went airborne for a bicycle kick, and although he made contact with the ball, the goalie denied the shot.
Aside from ephemeral flashes of brilliance, the first half was sluggish, and not only was the game scoreless, neither goalkeeper was tested very much in terms of blocking difficult shots. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that Santa Clara concentrated so many players in their defensive third. The midfielders played very conservatively and with discipline, making it difficult for Mitty to create chances. Even so, Santa Clara paid the price because it could only afford to have two or three players ready to attack at any given time.
As the game progressed, it was hard to distinguish a favorite. The strong breeze let Santa Clara’s through balls carry a little further while it stunted Mitty’s clearances. But at the turn of the half, Santa Clara lost that advantage and never seriously threatened their opponent. The second half was a clean slate, and the Monarchs were changing their game.
“I thought the first half was even. Santa Clara played well the first half, but the second half was mostly in our possession,” Mitty coach Cesar Sanchez said. “Once we put the ball on the ground and moved it around, we had better conditions.”
In the first 15 minutes of the second period, Mitty missed opportunities for a close header and a reasonably good shot. Santa Clara, on the other hand, couldn’t pull together plays well, and none of junior Garrett Canavero’s well-placed free kicks could be converted into goals.
The chances were coming and going for both sides, but as the game was drawing to a close, Mitty was awarded the direct free kick that changed everything. Espinoza’s follow-up goal was merely icing.
“We’re a big passing team, and we have good forwards and midfielders who distribute well. Once we started moving the ball around, we started playing better, and we got lucky in the end,” said senior midfielder Maiki Rainton, who was instrumental to many of Mitty’s attacks.
The Bruins’ dreams of becoming CCS champs fell short, despite their strong defensive showing, but Santa Clara acquitted itself well.
“Where we started compared to where we finished is outstanding," Santa Clara coach John Azevedo said. "We had two freshmen and four sophomores on varsity, so I think we have a bright future. They’ll be our leaders for the next couple of years. I’m very proud of them."
Added Azevedo: "Our team became more of a family. I tell my kids that they’re all my little brothers. My favorite part of the team doesn’t even have to do with soccer. It’s just that we get along so well. The coach-player relationship is more of a big brother-little brother relationship. I get a lot more out of the players from a brotherhood.”