After a promising start to the season, the Leopards looked to break their three-game losing streak against the Occidental Tigers Wednesday at Ortmayer Stadium.
But this proved to be a difficult feat, as the Tigers applied early aggression and capitalized on the Leopards’ mistakes, resulting in a 4-0 Occidental lead just 20 minutes into the first half.
“The start was pretty rough. We couldn’t get our touches, we just made simple mistakes and it cost us,” freshman defender Adrian Perez said.
Following the initial goals, La Verne was finding a lot of trouble against the Tigers’ defense, with Occidental dominating possession time and outshooting La Verne 12-4 in the first half.
But the Leopards got some momentum back when Perez was able to score late in the first half off an assist from sophomore defender Tyler Avila, which was enough to energize the team heading into halftime.
“It helped a lot especially going into the half because at that point it shows we can score, so we just gotta do that a couple more times,” Perez said.
The Leopards came out of halftime swinging, applying heavy pressure and getting multiple close shots on goal.
With action moving up and down the field, both teams kept pace with each other throughout the half.
“I think we started off really slow and dug ourselves in a hole, but we woke up in the second half,” senior midfielder Thomas McKenzie said. “Getting that goal at the end of the first half really helped us out.”
With both teams applying such heavy pressure, one of them was bound to blink first.
As time was running out things began to look grim for the Leopards.
But in the 79th minute freshman defender Ethan Diaz was able to find the goal.
With tensions high, this caused a small scuffle in the goal as La Verne players went to retrieve the ball following the goal, resulting in several fouls.
Minutes later, junior defender James Metoyer scored with an assist from Perez to bring the score to 4-3.
“When you’re down 4-0, to be able to bring it back to 4-3… It’s a hard thing to do.” McKenzie said. “I was proud of our response.”
With six minutes remaining, the Leopards needed just one more goal to force overtime.
But it was not meant to be, as the Tigers put the final nail in the coffin with a goal from junior defender Riley McCabe with five minutes remaining, leading to a final score of 5-3.
“We believed in ourselves the second half and we were able to come back and almost put it away, but we got unlucky this time,” Diaz said.
In spite of the loss, head coach Trevor Persson felt proud of the team’s resilience.
“[At halftime] I told them, ‘I believe in what you’re doing. I believe in each and every one of you.’ So in the second half we just came out with the belief that we can come back,” Persson said.
“I thought that after giving up four goals, we dug ourselves a pretty deep hole, but we tried to climb out and we climbed out to the point of getting out and then we slipped back in,” he said.
The 3-6 Leopards look to snap their four-game losing streak at Caltech at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Joey Matsuzawa can be reached at email@example.com.