_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________         EBOOK


CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 3 BOYS SOCCER PLAYOFFS: Artesia’s shorthanded second half rally comes up short against top-ranked University

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


IRVINE-The Artesia High boys soccer program has made 11 trips to the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section divisional quarterfinals since the 1976-1977 season and one trip to the semifinals. For the Pioneers to make a second trip to the semis, they would have had to play their best game of the season to upend University High, the best team in Division 3.

Artesia head coach Octavio Marquez had received a scouting report from Long Beach Poly High personnel, which had played the Trojans in the first round. But that wasn’t enough to help the Pioneers, who had to play the final 33 minutes down a man to an ejection. In the end, Artesia lost 2-1 despite becoming the first team to score against University in the playoffs and just the sixth all season.

“We knew [about University]; we got a scouting report,” Marquez said. “We knew they were going to be quick. I think we did a fairly good job. We were able to get through the [first] half 0-0. I’m just proud of these guys. We go down with 10 [players] in the second half and we’re on them. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how the game is.”

University’s quickness became apparent very early as three minutes in, Giorgio Conta raced through the defense to take a shot that was stopped when junior goalkeeper Jason Gomez made a diving save at the right post. Three minutes later, senior forward Martin Razo took Artesia’s first shot, which was thwarted by Jimmy Choi, who made a diving save at the left post. Not much happened in the first half after the early moments despite both teams combining for 11 saves and six goalkeeper saves. But the second half would be a different story.

Two minutes in, senior forward Sergio Flores took a free kick from 27 yards out, but Choi came up huge again, making a diving save to his right. Later in the contest, junior defender Felipe Morales had a free kick from 26 yards out punched away by Choi.

“That was part of our scouting report; the goalie is good,” Marquez said. “We knew it was going to be tough to get one through and it showed today. He made some great saves and that kept them in the game.”

University broke the scoreless match in the 43rd minute on a Pedro Palmaka tally, but four minutes later, the game turned south for the Pioneers when senior defender Javier Gonzalez, a key part of Artesia’s defense, was issued a red card. The Trojans, who entered the contest at 18-1-3, took advantage and scored what eventually turned out to be the game-winner on a Darious Abdollahi goal off a free kick from 19 yards out in the 54th minute.

“It’s big,” Marquez said. “Anytime you’re down a payer against the number one seed…it’s a good organized team. But it’s tough. When you lose a player like that with his experienced senior leadership, it’s hard. It changes the whole perspective of the game.”

Artesia, the ninth ranked team in the division, was far from throwing in the towel as four minutes after University’s second goal, junior forward Sammy Valle had a shot saved. Then in the 67th minute, after a corner kick, junior defender Romel Burgos got the ball past Choi for his third goal of the season. Artesia outshot the Trojans.11-10 but Choi had half a dozen saves. The game was also very physical with the Pioneers being whistled 17 times opposed to 15 for the hosts.

Artesia (19-8-1) was vying for its 20th win, which would have been the third time in the past seven seasons that would have been accomplished. The Pioneers, who were tied with Norwalk High for second place in the Suburban League, went 13-12 last season and will lose eight seniors to graduation, but are slated to return 11 players for next season.

“Last year, we had no leadership,” Marquez said. “We had more individuals than…we were super talented, but talent’s not going to take you anywhere. This year, we were not as talented, we were not as deep, but we played as a team. The kids worked hard, they played as a team and it showed.”