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CIF-SS DIV. VI BOYS SOCCER PLAYOFFS: Cerritos’ historic season falls one penalty kick short of victory, loses to Charter Oak

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

The toughest way to go out in any high school soccer game is when you lose in penalty kicks, especially by a goal. The Cerritos High boys squad, arguably the feel-good story of the 2019-2020 season could taste a berth in the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 quarterfinals.

Already leading 2-0 heading into the fourth round of the penalty kick format, the host Dons needed one more goal to move on. Instead, Cerritos would miss its next two attempts while Charter Oak High rallied with two straight goals. Then in the eighth round, senor defender David Cruz was high on his attempt while Tristian Thomas ended the contest as his shot deflected off the left post and in for the 2-1 win (4-3 in penalty kicks).

But what makes this season special for the Dons is no other Cerritos team had advanced to the playoffs since 2000, and no other Cerritos team had won more than two playoff games in the same season since the 1989-1990 team, which win four games before falling in the 3 A championship game.

“I was here last year as the j.v. coach and what we set out accomplish was this: something like this as successful as this season because a lot of the guys are seniors,” said Cerritos first-year head coach Edward Vasquez. “We saw that they have talent and they deserve to have a season like this. They deserve it. They worked for it; they earned it. This shows their hard work.”

Following the contest, senior defender Matthew Sousa gave his team an emotional speech reminding the players what they had just accomplished this past season. Cerritos also concludes the campaign at 9-13-2, the most victories since the 2003-2004 team, which finished at 9-15-3. Overall, the program holds a 10-13 playoff mark in 13 trips. 

“At the end of the day, I’m proud of the boys; I’m proud of how we played,” Sousa said. “When you go to PK’s, it’s a flip of a coin. There’s nothing you can do there. Our goalie came up big; we just didn’t have the luck to put it away.”

Cerritos grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 14thminute when senior midfielder Sebastian Zambrano fed a long pass to senior forward Ezekiel Alcantar, who headed the ball in near the left post. Three minutes later, the Chargers nearly tied the contest, but a free kick from inside the penalty arc from Ryan Armendariz hit the crossbar. Then in the 22ndminute, a long range shot from Rafael Regalado tailed off to the right. Those would be the only two shots Charter Oak would get in the first half.

“It was just a great cross from Sebastian Zambrano off the right and a great finish from Zeke, which he has been doing all season long,” Vasquez said of the goal.

The Dons thought they would be going to the halftime break up 2-0 after a free kick from Sousa was waived off. Instead the referees waived it off, claiming a Cerritos player either pushed or interfered with a Charter Oak player.

“I think in the first half, we had a lot of momentum going,” Sousa said. “That goal that the refs said wasn’t in kind of brought us down a little bit. But I think we were pushing, and in the second half, we tried to push back and forth.

“Apparently, the referee said our player pushed [a Charter Oak player], but in my view, I didn’t see that,” Sousa later said.

Charter Oak would outshoot Cerritos 6-5 in the second half with the big goal coming in the 47thminute from Regalado, The best chance for Cerritos to win the game in regulation came two minutes into stoppage time when senior forward Noah Leonardo’s free kick inside the penalty arc barely goes above the crossbar.

The Chargers would also have chances to win the game late. But shots from Cedrick Alexander and Thomas within the last five minutes of the second overtime went to the right and left respectively of the post.

“I didn’t have [any] doubts,” Vasquez said. “These last two rounds have been tight, scrappy games, especially the first one which went into overtime. We had all the confidence in the world in our guys.”

“At the end of the day, we’re a very defensive team; we have been all year,” Sousa said. “We try to score goals off the counterattack because with Alcantar and Leonardo up top, they can put goals in the back away on fast breaks. So, we just try to contain the team as long as we can; get them tired and go back right at them.”

Sousa would take the first penalty kick and deposit it to the right of Charter Oak goaltender Joseph Wilds. After junior goalkeeper Elijah made a pair of diving saves, one to the right and the other to the left, Zambrano found the right side of the net to make it 2-0. 

Moon would dive to his right to stop Alexander’s shot before the momentum quickly shifted. Following a diving save by Wilds on junior midfielder Adrian Arrayga, Armendariz kept his team alive with a goal to the left of Moon. With the scored tied at 2-2 going to the sixth round, Alcantar’s shot deflected off the left post. But Jack Koval’s attempt would bounce off the crossbar and somehow make it past the goal line, much to the chagrin of the Cerritos team, which had already raced towards Moon thinking the game was over.

Last season, the Dons were knocking on the door of a playoff berth but finished in fourth place in the 605 League, going 7-10-4 overall and 3-4-3 in the circuit. It was the most league wins since the 2002-2003 team won four of 12 league contests. Then this season, the Dons started off slow, winning twice in the first 14 games before winning five of their last seven league games. In the postseason, Cerritos knocked off Pomona High 2-1 in overtime on the road, then eliminated St. Genevieve High 3-2, also on the road.

“It’s a long season and it takes time,” Vasquez said. “It takes time to adjust to build chemistry and we said from the beginning, it doesn’t matter how we start. It matters how we finish, and we finished on a great note.”

“I think it’s just the heart and the want to play,” Sousa said of the turnaround. “This group has the want to play; they’ll give everything on the field. I know it hurts them a lot right now taking this loss. But at the end of the day, I know that they know they left it all on the field.”

Now, the tough part is replacing the 18 seniors on a team of 26. But everyone will tell you that the accomplishments from this past season left a legacy for the future and that Cerritos is no longer the laughing stock that saw the program finish in last place 13 times in the past 19 seasons until its third place finish this past season.

“I think so because every other freshmen and underclassmen who come in here now have to make it a run,” Sousa said of leaving behind a legacy. “It’s in their hands now.”

“It feels good to put some recognition for the boys soccer program here at Cerritos High School,” Vasquez said. “It’s been a long time and it feels nice to put some respect on our program.”