The men’s soccer team opened up its 2019 campaign with an impressive 4-2 victory over the visiting San Diego Christian Hawks at Ortmayer Stadium on Friday.
The victory begins a positive start for a team that hopes to improve on last season’s 7-9-1 overall record.
The game opened up slowly with both teams struggling to maintain possession of the ball and create any sort of attacks. Heavy touches of the ball and constant pressure from both defensive sides kept the game slow, yet exciting within the first few minutes.
The Leopards finally created some attacking channels thanks to junior forward James Coe, who took on the entire SDC back line on his own – beating them to the box, but would miss the shot wide left from a difficult angle.
Sixteen minutes into the first half, an over aggressive Leopard’s back line misjudged a ball that sophomore forward Francisco Gonzalez was able to head over sophomore goalkeeper Kevan Rehmani’s head and cleanly into the net for the first goal of the match.
“During the first goal, they played a lofted ball over and caught us on our heels,” Rehmani said. “I kept a high line to try to cut it off but he got a good touch on it.”
The Leopards would respond a few moments later when sophomore midfielder Oluwafunminiyi Akanwo curled a brilliantly placed free kick from the far-left side of the field to even the match at 1-1, midway through the first half.
“It’s just a play we already practiced in practice” said Akanwo. “I was aiming near post and shot it near post. It just ended up fumbling past the keeper. It was a good goal.”
Another strong attacking effort by Coe ended with a penalty kick opportunity after Coe was tripped just inside the penalty area.
Junior midfielder Daniel Ortega would take the penalty kick, but SDC goalkeeper Sebastian Zertuche would defend the kick as it rolled to the lower left corner of the goal.
SDC upped their attacking momentum late in the first half but missed several attempted shots from deep including a howling shot from Francois Ekyoci who attempted his kick from about 30 yards.
The Leopards scored early in the second half thanks to a terrific through pass from sophomore defender Adrian Landeros to junior forward Jovanni Garcia, which allowed Garcia to shoot a ball that deflected off the far post and into the back of the net to make it a 2-1 game in favor of the Leopards.
The Leopards continued attacking pressure to the opposing side of the field early in the second half. Great ball movement and control inside the box led to a well-placed pass from Coe that put the ball at the feet of senior midfielder Cesar Rodriguez who followed that up with a blast to the back of the net to give cushion to the Leopard’s 3-1 lead.
The Leopards added another goal to their lead in the second half after the defense gave Ortega just enough room at the top of the box to allow him to send one to the top-right corner of the net to give the Leopards a comfortable 4-1 lead midway through the second half.
“I dropped the ball to one of our forwards, who dropped it back to me,” said Ortega. “I didn’t even look up, just put it on my right foot and I knew where I wanted it to go. I just put it there.”
SDC attempted to rally back late in the second half. SDC’s Ayres Del Castillo scored the second goal for the Hawks after being rewarded a penalty kick — caused by Rehmani who was trying to get the ball out of the box.
SDC would run out of time and the Leopards would take the 4-2 victory to start out the season.
Despite the outcome, head coach Trevor Persson does not want the victory to his players’ heads.
“I think we have a pretty balanced team” says Persson. “I hope they are just excited about it, but again I don’t want them to be overly confident.”
The Leopards continued their hot start to the season with a 5-0 victory on Saturday against Providence Christian. Their next game is 2 p.m. Saturday at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon.
Christopher Livingston can be reached at email@example.com.