M. Soccer: Playoff win moves team one step closer to Final Four

The Falcons celebrate after Christian Perez (13) scored the game-winning goal
The Falcons celebrate after Christian Perez (13) scored the game-winning goal

It seems receiving a bye in the first round of the playoffs isn't always advantageous. On Wednesday, the top-seeded Cerritos College men's soccer team needed a goal in the 83rd minute to pull past visiting #9-seeded Santa Monica College in a 2-1 victory during their Southern California Regional 2nd Round game. The Falcons (17-0-5) were the only team to receive a bye in the first round, and the 11-day layoff, combined with the 95-degree temperatures, proved to be a bit of an obstacle. But the team prevailed and will now host one of two Southern California Regional Finals games, which will take place at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday. They will host either #4-seeded Golden West College or #5-seeded Compton, with Cerritos facing both of them this season with each game finishing as a scoreless draw.

"I️ feel like the lay off might of given us some rust but we trained all week one pressing them up high," said head coach Benny Artiaga. "I️ would of like for us to have put away an opportunity early, and I️ really feel like that would of made them pay. I️ really liked the way the team executed off pressing high. It shows we have a very disciplined team."

The Falcons came out looking to get on the scoreboard right away and nearly did that, but were turned away by a couple nice saves from Corsairs goalkeeper Marek Strzelcyzk, who finished with 10 saves. He stopped Luis Garcia (La Habra HS), Marc Calderon (Elizabeth Learning Center HS) and Oscar Canela (Paramount HS) in the first 15 minutes, which kept the game scoreless. Sophomore Kevin Martinez (Pioneer HS) had the best look of everyone, as he squared up and drilled a shot that hit the corner of the crossbar in the 29th minute, while the rebound came to Garcia, whose point black shot was stopped by a diving Strzelcyzk.

"We scouted them versus Rio Hondo and did then a phenomal job of playing out of the back and keeping the ball. We knew we wanted to limit their time of possession," added Artiaga.

Playing a superb game at midfield was sophomore Guy Carven (National Haitian Student Alliance), who seemed to possess every loose ball, which resulted in another offensive attack at Santa Monica. The Falcons team speed, combined with their defensive prowess paid dividens in the second half, which broke the tie.

After the defense cleared the ball into the Crosairs side of the field, Calderon controlled the ball and drove down the right sideline. He turned the corner and looked to send a pass across the middle of the box. However, the attempted passes deflection by Ruben Soria resulted in an own goal in the 56th minute.

Santa Monica was able to tie the game 20 minutes later on a set piece after a yellow card was issued. The Falcons looked to substitute Carlos Payeras (Lennox Academy HS), who received the yellow card, but were unable to, with the Corsairs scoring on the ensuing free kick. Danny Hernandez lofted the ball in front of the net to Cyrille Njomo, who headed the ball past Jordan Aldama (North Torrance HS) to tie the game.

But just like their resilient nature all season, the Falcons needed just seven minutes to regain the lead with what turned out to be the game-winning goal. On a rush up the field, the tic-tac-toe passing of Garcia to Adrian Becerra (Morningside HS) to Christian Perez (Paramount HS), resulted in a beautiful one-timer into an open portion of the net.

"Not every win is going to be pretty," continued Artiaga. "But in our first game, the objective is to survive and the boys grinded it out and showed resilience after Santa Monica tied the game."

The defense did the rest, which  moved the Falcons one win away from advancing to the Final Four, which will take place at American River College in Sacramento. The last time Cerritos reached the state tournament was 2014, which resulted in a state championship.

Photos by Daryl Peterson