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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 4 BOYS SOCCER PLAYOFFS: Norwalk falls to Saugus in final minute, then overtime in first trip to semifinals

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


LA MIRADA-Vinson Pluma has been associated with the Norwalk High boys soccer program for over 20 years, both as a head coach and as an assistant. Never had the Lancers advanced to the semifinals of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs.

The Lancers did that this past Tuesday when they hosted Saugus at Goodman Stadium on the La Mirada High campus. One minute was what stood between Norwalk and a trip to the Division 4 finals. But with time running down in regulation, Tanner Brown silenced the home crowd with the all-important tying goal. Then in the 93rd minute, James Johnson got loose on a mini breakaway and pushed in the game winner in a 2-1 win.

“The last goal was a mistake; it was mistiming,” Pluma said. “I think that’s what broke them into overtime because we didn’t let anybody run through our middle. For that to happen, we just lost it mentally, so we just made a mistake. We were trying to attack when we should be defending and we could have gone to PK’s in that case.”

It didn’t take very long for the Lancers to get on the board, 30 seconds to be exact, as junior forward Andrew Vasquez notched in his ninth goal of the season with the assist coming from junior forward Alejandro Amador. After that, the Lancers offense would be stymied despite many chances before halftime and even better opportunities in the second half. Norwalk outshot the Centurions 7-3 in the first half and took four corner kicks.

Midway through the second half, senior forward Rudy Cruz raced down the left sideline, fighting his way off of Jayden Willsey, who eventually fouled Cruz just outside the penalty box. That led to a free kick from 20 yards out, taken by senior defender Anthony Galicia, whose shot curled up and over the left corner of the net.

Six minutes later, Amador and Cruz made three beautiful passes back and forth before Amador sent a long cross pass through the box to junior forward Allen Perez. But his attempt to make it a 2-0 contest sailed too high.

“I think we scored so early that maybe we lost focus,” Pluma said. “They started hitting long balls to us and we didn’t keep possession of the ball. We were trying to long instead of really keep possession of the ball going forward. That was our mistake as a team.”

Despite having just three shots on goal in the second half, the Lancers seemed to be sensing a victory. But with less than a minute remaining in regulation, Brown launched a free kick from over 45 yards out that bounced above junior goalkeeper Kevin Guzman, who appeared to have lost it in the sun, and into the net. The Lancers would then get one shot on goal in overtime. Guzman would make five saves, all in the second half.

“That almost takes your focus away from all of the great things that he did,” Pluma said. “He wasn’t sure how far the distance was and as the time was coming in.

“We had a few [shots], but then we were kind of rushing it Instead of really building up as a team,” Pluma continued. “When you’re rushing like that, then you lose possession of the ball.”

Norwalk, the co-champions of the Suburban League, finishes the season at 16-7-1. It entered the postseason as the 10th ranked team in the division while Saugus was unranked. Prior to the game, the Lancers were 2-3 in 1-0 decisions with the two wins coming in the second round against Glendora High and the quarterfinals against second ranked University High. Both of those wins came on the road. The Lancers had also been 5-5 in one-goal games.

“We beat some hard teams; we beat some really good ranked teams,” Pluma said. “So for that to happen, it’s just disappointing. We should have had [Saugus].

“I’m proud of the boys,” he later added. “Things happen, so…the big picture is they should have been the winners. It just didn’t go that way. For me, you just take it with a grain of salt. It’s not that crushing.”