Soccer can be the cruelest sport on the planet. It is lovingly referred to as “the beautiful game” that celebrates spontaneous creativity. However, it doesn’t always reward quality, and ultimately only cares about one thing: goals scored.
The Cabrillo boys’ soccer program knows this all too well.
I can’t count how many times I’ve covered coach Pat Noyes’s team in a statistically lopsided loss. Cabrillo will have more possession of the ball, and more scoring chances, but will come out on the losing end of a narrow 1-0 decision.
“It’s what’s happened to us often over the years,” Noyes said after his team lost another 1-0 game in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 championship last Saturday. He started the program at Cabrillo 20 years ago, and has reached three CIF quarterfinals in the last five seasons.
“It’s not like we don’t work on finishing,” he said. “It’s just that sometimes it doesn’t happen.”
I routinely get frustrated while watching professional soccer clubs protect a lead by moving all of their players behind the ball to park the defensive bus in front of their own goal. It’s a strategic move that renders actually watching the match redundant. As our good friend Tyler Hendrickson says all of the time, “That kind of stuff explains why people don’t like soccer.”
It was so frustrating watching Arlington celebrate its championship win over Cabrillo after only getting one shot on goal in the game. And that wasn’t even the goal! The Lions didn’t create much for themselves, and the entire championship was decided on one fluke hand ball in the box and the resulting penalty kick.
That game was destined to go to overtime after a scoreless 80 minutes, but less than five seconds of action decided otherwise. I’m not saying Arlington didn’t deserve to win that game, I’m just saying Cabrillo didn’t deserve to lose it. Not like that.
“It was frustrating,” Cabrillo senior Arnold Giron said. “They didn’t even possess or anything. We had them on their side most of the time. They were just holding their four defenders against me, and holding until we got there. They tried to counter-attack, but we just got it right back.”
I didn’t know what to expect when we walked over to talk with Noyes following the plaque presentations. After a few questions about the tactical decisions in the game, he paused and said with a grin, “It’s my favorite game in the world. There’s nothing better.”
It’s almost surreal to see someone who has put so much energy into something have that kind of composure in the face of a legitimately unfair situation. Then again, I know it’s taken Noyes years of watching games like the one on Saturday to come to that kind of understanding.
“I think we did a really good job,” Noyes said. “You can’t fault our effort. We just didn’t finish.”
Noyes went on to say that his team would be just fine once they’ve wiped the tears from their eyes.
“This is just a giant family,” he said. “Even though I’ve only played three subs, every game they’re all together, and every practice the bench is making it hard on the starters.”
The lesson of the day didn’t really hit me until I tried to get a quote from Giron about the hand ball call that changed history.
“It was a call that was meant to be, I guess,” he said.
That’s when it hit me. The bigger takeaway here is that performance really does reflect leadership, on and off the field. A high school sophomore can’t possibly have that mature reaction if his or her coach doesn’t model maturity, and teach them how to see the big picture.
“We’ve all had our moments where we’ve been mad at Noyes because we thought we were playing right,” Cabrillo senior captain Jonny Riquer said. “But, he’ll talk to us one-on-one and be like, ‘Look, this is why I tell you what I tell you — because I want you to improve in this way. Because if you improve in this way, we can do this (as a team)’. Because of that we’ve gained trust in him, and now we just listen to whatever he has to say.”
With Giron heading up a talented group of underclassman, led by a coach the caliber of Noyes, the sky will be the limit for Cabrillo boys’ soccer after this fleeting — and perhaps cruel — glimpse of glory.
CIF State Regional ~ Round One
Cabrillo vs. Riverside Poly
Today @ Cabrillo HS, 4 p.m.