Resilience earns squad another victory
Solid defense withstands offensive pressure
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 24, 2013 15:10
Bay Valley Conference leader Merritt College was outplayed and beaten 2-1 by a nine-man Comet team Friday on the Soccer Field.
Contra Costa College (3-1-2 in the BVC, 7-5-2 overall) went from the usual 11 men on the field to just 10 with 25 minutes left in the first half when starting goalkeeper Gustavo Rojas was shown off the pitch after receiving a red card.
Later in the second half, Comet striker Marcos Solis and Merritt midfielder Rubio Omar were also red-carded and ejected from the game.
“What a season,” Comet coach Rudy Zeller said from the sideline with 25 minutes left in the game as the Comets led by one goal after Solis was ejected. “Everything that can go wrong has,” he said.
Even so, the Comets held on for the win thereby moving into second place in the BVC behind the first place Thunderbirds, who fell to 5-1-1 in the BVC (8-3-3 overall).
Organization by the Comet defense in the backfield kept the Thunderbirds’ relentless offensive pressure out of the Comet penalty box. Closing down space in front of the goal funneled the plays to the wings of the field.
Turnovers in these areas were seized by CCC, which played the counterattack quickly and fluidly up the field in a break-away-style of play.
Tactical off-the-ball runs into open space during a counterattack often put Comet strikers in dangerous attacking positions. The Merritt backline stopped most of the plays before CCC was able to produce a goal off of them.
The Comets break away style of play usually caused a foul or clearance by a Merritt defender, resulting in set-pieces, when the game is brought to a halt for a corner-kick, free kick or throw-in.
Both of the Comet goals were produced from set-pieces.
Zeller told his team during a pre-game huddle that it had a chance at beating the first place T-Birds.
“You guys should be salivating over this opportunity,” he said. “This game is the most important game of the season. It’s a game that we need to win if we want to be serious contenders for the playoffs.”
The opening minutes of play saw possession going back and forth between both teams attempting to take an early lead. Merritt eventually took control of the midfield by applying off-the-ball pressure to shut down space, and limiting passing options for CCC players bringing the ball down the field.
At the 13th minute the Comets were able to score. A run down the left wing ended with a clearance by a Thunderbird defender about 30 yards out from goal.
Left-centerback Machado Klebber stepped up for the throw-in.
He slowly jogged up to the ball. Reaching down he spun it on the grass to clean it.
“I was aiming for Solis’ head by the far post,” Klebber said post-game. His overhead throw went over the entire Thunderbird defense and the ball dropped deep in the penalty box.
“He flicked it up and when it came down (Jose Aguilar) was there and able to just roll it in,” Klebber said. “I always aim for the box.”
Trailing 1-0, the T-Birds tried to keep the tempo of the game fast-paced in hopes of catching the Comet defense off-guard.
Minutes later, a bad pass in the midfield resulted in a CCC turnover. Merritt was able to take advantage and counter quickly by lobbing the ball into space.
Keeper Rojas rushed toward the player as soon as he realized that the last defender would not reach the striker in time.
Rojas seemed to be setting up to kick the ball out clear from danger, but before he could the attacking striker got a foot on it, flicking the ball up in the air. Rojas covered his face with his hands for protection.
He was outside the box when the ball made contact with his hands and he was given a red card by center referee Andrew Hanks.
Reserve keeper Max Sonnier was sent onto the field by Zeller to defend from a relentless barrage of T-Bird crosses into the box.
“This was my second game playing (this season). I wasn’t mentally prepared,” Sonnier said post-game.
For the rest of the half the Comets held back and played a defensive formation of 4-4-1. The Thunderbirds were able to hold the ball in CCC’s half of the field the majority of the half.
Merritt crosses from the wings, or corner kicks, were constantly punched away by Sonnier rising above the strikers who were hunting down aerial balls in the penalty box.
“I was nervous at first,” Sonnier said. “I think I started really playing better after I hit the first couple of people. Adrenaline took over.”
Sonnier had a total of five saves in the half, dominating the penalty box.
The first half ended with the Comets leading 1-0.
CCC was awarded a foul 30 yards out from the Merritt goal just five minutes into the second half.
“Here is a chance,” Zeller told defensive right-back Sam Mendez as he was setting up to take the free kick.
Mendez curled the ball up and over the barrier toward the far post, delivering it to striker Solis’ head.
“I saw Sam about to take the free-kick and I knew it was coming to me,” Solis said.
Solis said he jumped up and aimed for the opposite corner. The lobbed header floated just over the diving keeper, hitting the inside of the post to creep into goal, giving the Comets a 2-0 lead with almost an entire half left to play.
T-Bird striker Julio Cervantes was able to close the gap to 2-1 with a penalty kick when Sonnier received a yellow card for fouling center midfielder Francissco Mendoza in the box at the 70th minute.
Tensions almost boiled over moments later when a 50-50 chance on a loose ball brought Solis tumbling to the ground.
Merritt midfielder Omar used his body to bring him down and followed through with his run, landing his cleat into Solis’ thigh. An exchange of shoves and heated words earned both players red cards and an ejection.
“We played 70 minutes with 10 men on the field and 25 with only nine,” Zeller told his squad after the game.
“Every single player stepped up today. I couldn’t be prouder.”