Following a rough couple of games against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Pomona-Pitzer, men’s soccer bounced back in a physical game against Cal Lutheran Wednesday, winning 2-1 on a thrilling last second goal from junior forward Christopher Wong.
“I think that the biggest factor was our energy,” junior forward Jack Kolodge said.“We had a big win this previous weekend and we needed to come back and get a win today, coming out with a lot of energy and being able to get a W moving forward is huge for us.”
The first half of the game featured back-and-forth action spanning across the field with both teams applying heavy ball pressure.
However, La Verne gained the upper hand late in the first half when Kolodge scored off of a quick pass from freshman midfielder Salvador Ortega that left defenders reeling, and gave the Leos a 1-0 lead.
“When I turned to play it wide, I knew there was a gap in the defense and there was a gap I could play,” Kolodge said. “I saw [Ortega] cutting in, and we’d practiced some patterns and I knew he was gonna play the ball there. He played a perfect pass and I was able to slide it behind the goalie.”
Despite the early goal, the Leopards’ lead would not last long, as the Kingsmen rallied back with a goal of their own two minutes into the second half.
Cal Lutheran came out of halftime firing on all cylinders, playing with unrelenting aggression throughout the half.
As the game progressed, it seemed increasingly difficult to move the ball through the Kingsmen’s defense.
“They have a good team, and they have a really structured back line,” Kolodge said.
“They’re very organized so it’s tough to break them down so you just have to keep going at it and make sure if they slip up we capitalize on their mistakes.”
But mistakes were rare in the second half and with the score remaining 1-1 through the end of regulation, the game was sent into overtime.
Overtime started much like the rest of the game, full of physical back-and-forth action, but in the closing minutes it seemed the Leopards gained the upper hand.
“They were closing us down at times, they knew how to close our passing lanes,” Wong said.
“But I feel that we grew past that and found ways to exploit their weaknesses and their empty spaces.”
Heading into the final minutes, the game was at its peak intensity, with both teams looking for their first conference win.
La Verne’s chance came on a long throw in from senior midfielder Thomas McKenzie in the final seconds of the game.
McKenzie’s throw sent the ball bouncing around the goal box with neither team able to secure it.
But at the last remaining second Wong was able to bounce it off a defender to score the game-winning walk-off goal.
“We tried to get that last attack in,” Wong said. “We had [McKenzie] throw in the ball which kinda bounced around our players in their box and it fell to me so I just hit it.”
With the win, the Leopards now improve their overall record to 3-2 with a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference record of 1-2.
The win was necessary following two conference losses to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Pomona-Pitzer last week.
“We knew that we had to get a win. There was no other option for us to keep going forward,” Ortega said.
Moving forward, La Verne travels on Saturday to take on Whittier followed by a game on Wednesday at Redlands. These next few weeks will be very telling of how the season will play out. Currently, the Leopards sit in fifth place in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“It was crucial [to get the win],” Wong said. “We’re still in the early part of the season I feel like we can maintain our current momentum and keep it pushing through, we have the taste of winning and it’s too much to give up.”
Joey Matsuzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.