M. Soccer: Semifinal win sends Falcons to the championships

Kevin Diaz celebrates after scoring the second Falcons goal
Kevin Diaz celebrates after scoring the second Falcons goal

Through the first 50 minutes of their CCCAA Semifinal game on Friday in Ventura, the Cerritos College men's soccer team showed their offensive explosiveness in taking a 3-0 lead. But the #2-seeded team from Northern California, San Francisco City College took advantage of a pair of Falcon miscues and turned them into goals. Surviving the final shot attempt that hit the crossbar, the #1-seeded Falcons (21-1-2) posted a 3-2 win and have advanced to the state championship match, which will take place on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. against Golden West College at Ventura College. The #2-seeded Rustlers handed defending champion Fresno City College a 2-0 decision in the other semifinal game.

The Falcons will be playing for their fourth state championship, with the others coming in 2006, 2008, 2014.

This will be the second meeting of the season against Cerritos and Golden West, with the Falcons recording a 1-0 home win back on September 7. The two teams played to a pair of scoreless decisions in 2017, including the Southern California Championship Game, where Cerritos advanced on penalty kicks, 3-2.

Cerritos got on the board in the 22nd minute when sophomore Erick Gallinar (Connections Academy HS/UC Irvine) located freshman Bryan Villalobos (Salesian HS) on a lead pass in the box and buried a shot passed Rams goalkeeper Javier Hernandez and his outstretched hands. Striking again in the 33rd minute, freshman Carlos Perez (Mayfair HS) set up freshman Kevin Diaz (Connections Academy HS) for the second score of the contest. Diaz controlled a pristine pass from Perez and he promptly knocked in a shot from 15 yards out in the top-left shelf of the goal for a 2-0 advantage.

The goal by Diaz was his 21st of the season, which is tied for the third most in the state.

"I thought we moved the ball very well after we figured out what we were going to do," said head coach Benny Artiaga. "We made a few substitutions and it took us a good 10-12 minutes to figure out how to counter San Francisco throwing a third forward at us. We were a little scattered at first trying to find the right recipe to counter. To their credit, they never quit and played a very good game."

The lead was preserved due to some outstanding goalkeeping from sophomore Jordan Aldama (North Torrance HS). In the 25th minute, he turned away Eruvey Arceta, who uncorked a shot from the near side of the field. However, Aldama had other plans as he made a highlight-reel save. Aldama, who finished with four saves, also made a sliding save in the 69th minute against Ramzi Agoune and saved his best save for Alejandro Perez in the 83rd minute with the Falcons leading, 3-1.

It was a 3-0 game early in the second half as freshman Bryan Ortega (Cesar Chavez HS) scored the team's third goal in the 49th minute by controlling a free ball in the box with assistance from Gallinar. The two helpers by Gallinar lifted him into a tie for second most in the state with 19.

As much as he was a key component in the team's win, the aggressive Aldama found himself in no-man's land in the 53rd minute, as he was unable to get back into position after playing the ball well out of the 18-yard box. The ball was stolen and Shadrack Adom was able to twist a shot into the net. San Francisco scored their second goal in the 87th minute, as Arceta was able to find the back of the net.

Taking on a familiar opponent, Artiaga said he expects the Rustlers to be very physical and use their size.

"I expect them to grind and hit us as much as they can," said Artiaga. "When they played at our place this season, we used our wider field to utilize our speed. They had a hard time hitting what they couldn't catch. Now, we have to make quicker passes and move the ball much faster. It's going to be a great championship game."

Photo by Mike Baker