Leopards overcome Royal slump

After a head shot by junior Aaron Jones (#16), senior Leo Fernandez (#13) and junior Rudy Gutierrez (#5) try to protect the ball from Thoreau Prendergast (#22) in the men's soccer game against Pacific Christian College at Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday. The Leopards won 1-0. / photo by Heather Morales
After a head shot by junior Aaron Jones (#16), senior Leo Fernandez (#13) and junior Rudy Gutierrez (#5) try to protect the ball from Thoreau Prendergast (#22) in the men’s soccer game against Pacific Christian College at Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday. The Leopards won 1-0. / photo by Heather Morales

by Scott Harvey
Staff Writer

Just when it was starting to believe that a win would never come, the 0-7 men’s soccer team returned victorious on Tuesday, beating Pacific Christian 1-0 after an exciting match-up in Fullerton.

From the first kick of the match, the intensity level was very high for both teams. Early in the game, La Verne’s defenders used their physical size to over-power Pacific Christian, but the offense found it hard to penetrate the Royals’ zone.

After a slow start, the speed and skill of Pacific Christian began to shine through. By passing well and out-running defenders, the Royals attempted the first few shots of the game and proved that they could be a factor in the Leopards’ zone. Although the Royals seemed to control the tempo in the first minutes of the game, La Verne came out strong defensively and each time Pacific Christian pressured they were foiled.

“Pacific definitely came to play a hard game, but we were ready defensively,” said head coach Mike Collins.

When the Royals had no scoring opportunities, they were quickly back on defense and the Leopards found it very difficult to get any kind of good shot on goal. Although the Leopards were strong on defense, the Pacific Christian team did penetrate early firing on senior goal keeper Tim Kyle five times in the opening three minutes.

Kyle was very strong in goal, often diving and sprawling out to make great saves and keep the Leopards alive.

“They shot very well, I had to cover a lot of ground today,” said Kyle.

The key moment for La Verne came in the 10th minute of the first half when sophomore striker Rusty Smith broke away from defenders on a charge toward the goal. Seeing that he had no angle, Smith booted the ball across the field to wide open senior fullback Eric Gleason who lifted the ball over the goal keeper’s head giving La Verne a 1-0 lead and Gleason his first goal of the season.

Knowing they had to step it up, Pacific Christian rallied offensively, setting up a number of very skillful and impressive shots on goal. Royal mid-fielder Thoreau Prendergast and forward Donald Laing led the charge, often setting each other up in the Leopards’ zone. In a scary moment for La Verne, Prendergast, after receiving an excellent pass from Laing, fired a towering shot from beyond the goal box which barely sailed over the top goal post and once again the Royals were stopped from scoring.

As the half progressed Kyle remained solid in goal, showing the Pacific Christian forwards that he was not afraid to come out and challenge them. On one particular play, Kyle, diving backwards to make a save, collided with the goal post, hitting his head and he appeared to be injured. Although he took a tough shot, Kyle stayed in the game and, with time ticking down in the first half, made a spectacular diving save on a shot by Laing.

In the second half, the Leopards continued to pressure the Pacific Christian defense, but an abundance of fouls and whistles forced them to give up the ball deep in the Royals’ zone.

“It was a very physical game from the beginning, and they were definitely great physical athletes,” said senior defender Eric Gleason.

“Pacific is a really great team, they won their own tournament last week and they played awesome today. We were very fortunate to win,” said sophomore fullback Rudy Gutierrez.

As the game wound down and the pressure thickened, the La Verne defense, led by a magnificent performance by Kyle, hung very tough and never lost its lead.

“This was an important win, but we are lucky to have beaten such an athletic team as Pacific,” said Collins.

“We are finally starting to gel as a team, especially the defense, and going into league we couldn’t be in a better situation. But we definitely still have work to do,” said Kyle.

The Leopards will take the inspiration of their first win and start Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference league play tomorrow at Caltech. The team will also play key league matches against SCIAC teams on Oct. 19 at Pomona-Pitzer and Oct. 26 against Whittier at home.

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