Defense wins championships, and the Millikan boys’ soccer defense proved on Tuesday that it’s ready to stay in the running for the Moore League title. Great play from the back line and two clutch saves from two different goalkeepers carried the Rams to a 2-0 win at Long Beach Poly.
The contest turned just before the hour mark when Poly was awarded a controversial penalty kick while hunting for the equalizer. Millikan backup goalkeeper Byron Hernandez came off the bench to stop the PK, and a minute later forward Issac Chavez scored on the counter attack to double the Millikan lead.
“I was a little nervous but this weekend I had (club) games and was saving PKs too,” Hernandez said. “I stayed cool until the last moment, read it and I went my way which is the way he was going to shoot. It feels really good making the save, and scoring after is even better.”
“Byron is a great shot stopper so I did think we had a chance,” Millikan coach Jeff Schofield said. “What a moment for a kid who hasn’t played a ton of minutes this year, to come in a make a huge impact… and then for us to go the other way and score a minute later was unbelievable.”
Millikan took a lead in the opening minutes when Anton Moore pounced on a through ball that split a pair of Poly defenders.
“I saw the keeper come out so I tapped it around him and luckily I got a good touch around him and finished,” Moore said.
Poly pressed hard for the rest of the first half with a handful of good chances coming off long throw ins. The Jackrabbits nearly scored at the half hour mark but Millikan goalkeeper Michael Schoen came off his line for a sliding save.
The Rams protected the 1-0 lead with solid play from defenders Cristian Palacios, Julian Ribas, Connor McCoy and Noah Scott.
“Poly has a lot of attacking presence so we knew we were going to be under it,” Schofield said. “Our defense did a great job. They fought, they clawed, won a ton of ball and then had guys around to get balls out.”
Both teams traded scoring chances early in the second half before the game changing play in the Millikan 18-yard box. Poly’s Bryant Amador send a long ball to the top of the box where forward Nathaniel Goodman and Schoen came together. The collision left Goodman on the ground and Schoen standing with the ball as Schoen was whistled for the foul and the yellow card.
Millikan argued the call while Schoen was replaced by Hernandez, per high school yellow card rules. Hernandez dove to his right for the PK stop that sent the Rams bench into a frenzy.
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“That shows the togetherness of the group,” Schofield said of the bench celebration. “These guys are friends so to have one of their friends go in there and make a huge impact is a huge deal for them.”
Hernandez quickly got the ball up the field after his save, and Jesus Moreno took it down the right flank. He beat two defenders and sent a low cross into the box where Chavez scored with a one-time finish.
“Credit to (Hernandez) and those are momentum builders,” Long Beach Poly coach Eric Leon said. “Their bench was all pumped up and that’s what soccer is all about. They came back the very next play and scored, 2-0, and that’s the difference in the game.”
Poly had the majority of chances to score in the game, and outshot Millikan 7-4 in the second half.
“As the season gets longer all we work on is defense,” Moore said. “We have to work on communicating more but that’s it because we’re hard working and pushing through everything.”
The victory keeps Millikan in second place in league behind Wilson, and the Rams are scheduled to play the Bruins next Tuesday.
Poly hosts Compton on Thursday. The defending league champion Jackrabbits sit third ahead of Jordan and Lakewood— the two teams they play next week.
“I’m glad there’s competition (in league) because we get a chance to get ready for (playoffs) so I’m proud of the progress the league is making and it’s definitely beneficial for every program,” Leon said.