Giovanna Z. Rinaldo
In an epic comeback, the men’s soccer team defied the odds and snatched a victory right off the Redlands Bulldogs’ hands to convert a 2-0 disadvantage into a 3-2 road win Friday at Farquhar Field.
After a bland first half with the hosts dominating possession and scoring twice to secure an important lead, La Verne returned from halftime willing to go after the result.
The fighting spirit fueled the team to score three goals in the second half and seal a win against the league leaders.
During the first 45 minutes, the Leopards struggled to find their groove and were overpowered with pressure by the very organized Bulldogs.
The inability to click left La Verne stagnated, forcing the team to devote most of its assets to defending.
With momentum building up, Redlands finally reached the back of the net on the 14th minute, with a goal by junior midfielder Casey ChubbFertal.
Following a tricky back pass from the defense to sophomore goalkeeper Josh Ramirez, the Bulldogs were able to steal the ball on rebound and convert it to a shot too far for Ramirez to reach, scoring 1-0.
La Verne got more organized after the goal but Redlands still had possession, overwhelming the visitors in passes and playmaking. On the 26th minute, junior forward Chase Boone took advantage of a ball left alive in the box after a corner and expanded his team’s advantage to 2-0.
A comeback seemed unlikely, but the second half proved to be a completely different match. From the start, the Leopards were more organized and set the intensity level high up, balancing the game.
“I thought we started off pretty slow but we really pulled together for the second half and came through,” said junior midfielder Auden Foxe. “We changed our formation and we brought a lot more energy in the second half.”
La Verne improved in recovering the ball, and especially in giving sequence to plays after stealing it. On the 67th minute, off a corner kick deflected in the box, senior defender Humberto Irra scored to reward the Leopard’s intensity, 2-1, and hint at what was about to follow.
Roughly six minutes later, taking advantage of the Bulldog’s sharp decrease in intensity, came the equalizer scored by freshman forward Ryan Adams.
“In the second half we were actually trusting one another and were passing and moving the ball more,” said senior midfielder Justin Funes. “We were letting the ball do most of the work cause it’s a big field and we were getting ourselves tired, because we wouldn’t pass the ball and we would try to dribble too many players.”
Despite a sequence of questionable calls by the referee, including an uncalled penalty on senior forward Nathan Gonzalez on the 33rd minute, the Leopards did not let emotions take the best of them and kept insisting on the possibility of a win.
After immense pressure and the imminent chance of scoring, the winner finally came for La Verne on the 84th minute, unleashing madness in the crowd of numerous supporters that went to Redlands to encourage the team.
“There was a long ball and it was bouncing inside the 18 and I did just what my coach told me, hit it long and hard to the back post,” Foxe said. “I was super pumped but I just grabbed the ball out of the net and I was ready to go get some more.”
The Bulldogs tried to pressure and go all in during the final minutes, but La Verne held strong to take home the unlikely but very deserved win.
“It showed what we’re capable of even when we’re down two goals,” said senior defender Ferdinand Estrada. “While we did struggle in the first half, we definitely showed what we’re capable of coming back with three goals.”
“It definitely sends a message saying that we are a force to be reckoned with in this league, despite being down two goals no team can think it’s gonna be an easy win until the last minute.”
With the victory, La Verne concluded SCIAC play with a record of 11-4-1. The team totaled 31 goals in 16 games, with a rate of 1.9 goals scored per game.
In addition, they had the best defense of the season, conceding less than a goal per game, with a .93 rate. La Verne also finished 14-4-1 overall.
“This victory shows that we can go win SCIAC now, cause we beat Redlands and they’re the team (that is) most likely gonna be up in the final. It shows that we can beat them,” Funes said.
The postseason playoffs kicked off for the Leopards at 7 p.m. Thursday, in a semifinal home game against the Chapman Panthers.