Coming off hard-fought wins against No. 25 ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Cal Lutheran, the men’s soccer team was looking to take revenge on Whittier on Wednesday after losing 4-1 earlier in the season.
In order to keep their playoff hopes alive the Leopards need to win out the rest of the way, but are off to a good start after beating Whittier 2-1 in a nail-biting double overtime.
“I think we just started slow, it took us a little bit to catch up to their intensity,” senior midfielder Thomas McKenzie said. “They’re a very intense, high-energy team and we struggled to match it early, but I think we did well to come out and match it in the second half.”
ULV came out in the first half playing with heavy aggression, continuously forcing the ball into Poet territory.
But the Leopards could not sustain their attack and as the pace of the game slowed, the Poets gained the upper hand.
ULV’s defense held strong and made stop after stop, keeping pace with Whittier.
La Verne managed to get a few close corner kick shots before the referees stopped the game due to a Whittier injury. This proved to be detrimental, as it halted the pressure ULV had built up.
As Whittier gained the edge on offense ULV’s defense started to play sloppily, leading a defensive breakdown that turned into a Whittier goal with just two minutes left in the half.
La Verne was nearly able to answer with a close shot bouncing off of the cross bar, but there was not enough time. The half ended 1-0 Whittier.
“First half we came out strong; looked to capitalize and it just didn’t happen,” sophomore midfielder Daniel Ortega said. “We had a little mental break toward the end of the half and that’s when they punished us.”
Following halftime both teams came out with heavy pressure, with the Leopards getting off 10 shots on goal in the half.
Despite giving up the goal at the end of the first half, Leopard sophomore goalkeeper Rene Gonzalez had a standout performance in the net, making numerous diving saves to keep his team in the game.
The second half was back-and-forth with both teams pushing up and down the field.
But it was not until the 80th minute that La Verne would get on the board.
Junior midfielder Cesar Rodriguez took a fake penalty kick, instead dishing the ball to freshman midfielder Alan Medina, who shot the ball perfectly into the corner of the net.
“It was the second free kick we had off the 18,” Medina said. “I already knew where I was going to try to place it, so my head was always in that corner, and I just went for it and it turned out great.”
But the Leopards were not finished, mounting a heavy offensive to close out regulation.
“I think it was huge. Having that goal just gave us the confidence to say, ‘We can do this,’ and finish the game out,” McKenzie said.
Overtime in NCAA soccer is played with the “golden goal” rule, meaning that whoever scores the first goal wins.
ULV started overtime by pushing the ball deep into Poet territory.
This set up a few near-scores by junior midfielder James Metoyer and sophomore forward Johnny DeRueda.
Tensions ran high, as the longer the game went the more physical it became, with multiple players from both teams drawing yellow cards.
“I think Whittier is a pretty emotional team,” Ortega said. “They love to press and they love to attack us when we’re down so we took some time to adjust, and by the end of the game we had their game plan figured out.”
With neither team able to score in the first 10-minute overtime period, it went into a second.
“Once we got the momentum, we figured them out and had them on their toes,” DeRueda said.
As the game ticked down to its final minutes, the Poet defense held and it seemed likely that the Leopards would record their first tie of the season.
But with just less than 30 seconds remaining La Verne was able to set up for another free kick.
Freshman midfielder Ryan Sanfilippo crossed the ball in and after bouncing off numerous defenders in the box, Ortega found the ball and blasted it into the net before being mobbed by his teammates.
“Ryan Sanfilippo tried to cross it in, it deflects off one of their backs and it’s rolling to me – top of the box. I know there’s like 30 seconds left on the clock and there’s nothing to lose here, so I took the shot,” Ortega said.
Despite the close margin of victory head coach Trevor Persson says he is happy with the teams consistent performance throughout the game.
“We played 107 minutes out of a 109 minute game, so we were able to maximize but we took a break for two minutes and they scored,” Persson said
With the win, the Leopards improve to 5-7 in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and 7-7 overall.
Next week will be an important week for the team, as they look to take on SCIAC rivals Redlands at Ortmayer Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday and Chapman on the road at 4 p.m. Wednesday in games that will decide their postseason fate.
Joey Matsuzawa can be reached at email@example.com.