Above: El Rancho goal keeper David Lopez sits alone as Crescenta Valley celebrates winning 3-0 during a CIF-SS Division 4 championship soccer match at Warren High School in Downey. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Keith Birmingham)
By Keith Lair
DOWNEY – The El Rancho High School boys soccer team’s stellar season ended with a thud.
Crescenta Valley was able to take advantage of its opportunities and stymie the Dons en route to a 3-0 victory in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 championship game on Friday evening at Warren High.
“It’s amazing,” El Rancho senior Francisco Lara said. “We didn’t expect this. We came out expecting to win, but you never know what happens.”
The loss ended the Dons’ 34-game unbeaten streak (26 this season), and also ended their hopes at winning a second consecutive CIF-SS title.
Now all they can hope for is a potential invitation to the CIF State Southern California regional playoffs.
“You have to give credit to Crescenta Valley,” El Rancho coach Dominic Picon said. “They made the most of the littlest of opportunities. They are a very formidable team.”
Crescenta Valley remains unbeaten at 20-0-7.
We knew we were going to have to beat El Rancho from the beginning of the year,” Falcons goalkeeper Nick Ruiz said. “We just knew we were going to have to take them down. Winning has not set in and I don’t think it will set in for a couple of days. It’s amazing. We expected a hard-fought game, but not the way it ended.”
El Rancho had not lost since a 4-2 setback to Schurr on Dec. 16, 2010. The Dons were 33-0-1 since then going into Friday’s game. The last tie was to Pioneer in Del Rio League play last year.
The Falcons scored two goals within four minutes of the first half and then packed in the defense in the second half.
“There is no way to sugarcoat it,” Picon said. “We got outplayed in the first half. We didn’t come out like we should have. I thought we played valiantly in the second half. I kept thinking that if we got that one goal, the others would come.”
El Rancho was ranked fifth nationally by ESPN and had not been held scoreless since Jan. 28, 2010 in a scoreless tie against Whittier.
Ruiz made sure that would be the result in the second half. With help from defenders Salar Hajimirsadeghi, Tony Royer, Brian Ju and Matt Schmutzer, he had five saves off of nine El Rancho shots in the second half.
“We knew they were going to come out hard in the second half,” Crescenta Valley coach Grant Clark said. “When you’re down 2-0 , it’s a dangerous lead to have. We dropped some people in the midfield to give some extra defenders.
“All playoff long we have been scratching for goals. So to be able to go up two goals was a big pressure off our back because we feel that we can defend with anybody.”
The Dons, who averaged nearly four goals per game this season, had six legitimate shot attempts to score in the second half.
Despite the defensive pressure, Lara, Cristian Roldan, Efrian Velasco and Mauricio Lopez were unable to convert on opportunities. Velasco had an early second-half shot stopped by Ruiz. Lara took a nice pass from Lopez and had a point-blank shot blocked by Ruiz that hit the crossbar and went over the goal. Lopez then just missed on a header off of Miguel Vichis’ corner kick.
“No lying; that team is great,” Lara said. “That first goal we kept our heads up. We said we always come back no matter. But this is my last year. I didn’t expect this.”
The Falcons only took two shot attempts in the second half, scoring on their second, with three minutes remaining to seal the game. Crescenta Valley, the tournament’s third seed, took advantage of a fall by Roberto Hernandez. Alex Berger made a long clearance of the ball out and Pavle Atanackovic got it one-on-one against Hernandez. But the junior slipped almost immediately and Atanackovic, who will play at UC Irvine next season, had a long fastbreak and easy goal against David Lopez, who had to come far out of the net to try and cut off Atanackovic’s angle.
“We thought we had it, but they finished and we couldn’t,” Hernandez said. “If we had one goal, we could have had other opportunities.”
The Falcons have not lost since dropping a playoff game to El Rancho last year.
“I felt like we could score,” Clark said. “When they made a mistake, it was a matter of if we could capitalize on them. El Rancho has been here before, so for us to come in and get the first goal and then the second goal was really big. They just did a fabulous job in the first half and got us a lot of room.”
Berger scored in the 28th minute. He stole the ball and took a 40-yard shot. The ball hit the crossbar and Lopez appeared to make a dramatic save after it bounced off the ground. The referee did not make a call and Lopez lined up the free kick. But the sideline judge ruled the ball bounced over the goal line.
Four minutes later, Berger’s lone corner kick of the half went to Eric Keshishian, who did a backward kick flick to score.
“This is one of those great life experiences,” Picon said. “You can put your heads down, give up and throw in the towel or you can create a legacy for yourself. We threw almost everything we had in the second half. We were so close to scoring. Life is about correcting mistakes. We made some mistakes in the first half and we corrected them in the second half.”