Corona boys soccer wins the Lotto Sport Western Showcase

Written by Graham Eversden, Staff Writer

Over the weekend, the Corona boys soccer team traveled to California to compete in the Lotto Sport Western Showcase against teams from California, Arizona and Florida. The Aztecs won all three of their games to claim the championship trophy.

“It was definitely the toughest competition we have faced as a program in a number of years,” head coach Dan Salas said. “There were probably four or five top soccer programs that competed in this. For us to come out on top was just a feather in all those boys’ hats.”

The Aztecs started off slowly in their first match, possibly because of the long drive to California they made the day before. Cathedral (California) was quicker to the ball and prevented the Aztecs from having any time on the ball. Cathedral went into halftime up 1-0, and they could have been up by a lot more.

“They could have had one or two more,” Salas said. “We thought we were fast until we played some California teams. That’s what did us in the first half. We survived the first half and just battled the second half.”

The Aztecs played much better in the second half. Rather than trying to possess the ball and work around the opponent for the tying goal, the Aztecs decided to play more direct and went at Cathedral with long balls over the top. This left the defense vulnerable, and senior goalie Josh Whitney was forced to come up with some huge saves.

“We gave away too many opportunities,” Whitney said. “We didn’t step to ball hard enough and we didn’t go into tackles hard.”

Cathedral was defending well and it seemed the Aztecs were destined for the two consolation games given to the loser. Then senior Ryan Flood controlled the ball on the right, drove toward the middle and rifled a shot into the top left corner. The Cathedral goalie had no chance and the score was tied.

“It was coming off an assist from (senior Michael Lopez), who won a ball over a guy twice his size,” Flood said. “It was a magical moment and I’m glad I was able to share it with all the team.”

Because the game was still tied at the end of regulation, the game went into penalty kicks. Each team shoots five times from 12 yards away with only the goalie to stop them. Whitney saved Cathedral’s second kick and the Aztecs made their first four. The Aztecs just needed to make their fifth kick and they would win, but the opposing goalie made a diving save and the shootout continued, with one kick for each team. After Corona made it, the Cathedral player shot over the crossbar to clinch a spot in the semifinals for the Aztecs.

“We never practice penalty kicks,” Salas said. “These guys have so much confidence as individuals that the moment didn’t phase them. It was as if even the miss didn’t phase them.”

         In the next round, the Aztecs faced Brophy. The two Arizona squads, in what could be a preview of the state tournament, played an even game for the first half and the score was 0-0. The Aztecs went back to their direct approach in the second and were rewarded with two goals. The defense held strong and they won the game, 2-0.

Brophy is one of the Aztec’s biggest rivals for the state title. Along with Hamilton, who Corona already beat, and Desert Vista, who the Aztecs haven’t played, Brophy is supposed to make a deep run in the state tournament. Defeating the Broncos makes the Aztecs the early favorites for the title.

“Brophy thought they could beat us,” Flood said, “and they haven’t. Hamilton thought they could beat us and they haven’t. We’ve set ourselves up pretty well.”

The team meeting them in the final was Servite (California), typically a powerhouse in boys soccer. Servite struck first after a fantastic long ball created a counter-attack. The Servite forward chipped the ball over Whitney for the opening goal. Less than 10 minutes later, the Aztecs found the tying goal. A strong defensive clearance gave Flood the ball against two defenders and the goalie. Using a combination of speed and skill, Flood beat the defenders and rocketed a shot past the goalie. Servite responded by taking the lead again off a long throw-in that caused problems for the Aztec defense, and the ball found its way to the back of Whitney’s net. Just before halftime, the Aztecs got another tying goal. Senior Austin Delaney crossed the ball and it found sophomore Emilio Echerivel on the back post for the goal.

“If we can finish our chances better, then we can finish the game faster,” Flood said. “We just had to put the ball in the back of the net.”

The Aztecs scored two quick goals to open the second half. Flood used his magic again to put one past the Servite goalie from 20 yards out. Then, junior Josh Allison took advantage of a mistake by the Servite defense to go up 4-2. The defense held the lead for less than a minute before Servite scored to make the score 4-3. The defense then stood firm against increasing Servite pressure before Flood dribbled past the goalie again with four minutes remaining and rolled to ball into the net to clinch a 5-3 victory.

“We have a lot of things we could improve on,” Whitney said. “But we won, so we obviously did something right.”

The Aztecs are now ranked third in the nation because of the victory. The stiffest competition remaining is on Dec. 16 against Mater Dei (California) and the Arizona Soccer Showcase Dec. 27-29.

“I’m not worried about (our opponents),” Salas said. “I’m worried about us. We’re going to improve but you have to play four good games. If you play four good games, then you put yourself in a good position.”