The hotly contested Moore League boys’ soccer match on Tuesday at Wilson was ultimately decided by a pair of seniors with completely different stories.
Millikan captain Jesus Moreno scored off a rebound in the 16th minute, but Wilson newcomer Kevin Rodriguez equalized in the 78th minute for a 1-1 draw that keeps the Bruins in the league title race.
Moreno is widely regarded as the best player in the league and showed it by controlling most of the game from his attacking midfield position. When he went to the bench with a yellow card at the hour mark it allowed Wilson to get some momentum and get Rodriguez back into his first game as a Bruin.
Rodriguez transferred from Compton earlier this year and got academically eligible on Tuesday, according to Wilson coach C.J. Brewer. The senior midfielder was forced to the bench in the second half when he was suffering from cramps.
“It’s my first game in a year and I really wanted to prove myself so I just fought through it,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez came back into the game and minutes later Wilson earned a long throw in that Cole Worden sent into the 18-yard box. The ball deflected off a few players and bounced in front of Rodriguez, who sent it over his shoulder with his right foot into goal.
“I saw the ball come to me and I knew I could score it,” Rodriguez said. “I score those in training. It felt natural to me when I hit it. I just knew it was going in when I hit it… It felt good because these guys really put a lot of trust in me. I’ve been working hard to play and I finally got my chance.”
Millikan outshot Wilson 13-8 in the game and had four corner kicks to the Bruins’ two.
“Obviously we felt we played good enough to win and we didn’t but we still control our own destiny,” Millikan coach Jeff Schofield said. “We just need to win three games and we win league.”
Millikan opened the game on the front foot by trying to go over the Wilson back line. The strategy created a few chances, and a long ball forward ended up creating the first goal in the 16th minute. Issac Chavez pounced on a miss-cleared ball and his shot was saved by Wilson goalkeeper Gavin Pool-Harris. The rebound fell to Moreno at the top the box and he neatly finished on the near side.
“Once we scored that goal I thought we had that win,” Moreno said. “But that happens, we let our guard down at the last minute. We didn’t capitalize like last game. It really cost us.”
After Millikan took the first five shots of the game, Wilson took the next four shots before halftime. Then both teams traded scoring chances in the second half as Pool-Harris racked up six saves, and Millikan goalkeeper Michael Schoen had three saves.
The game looked destined for a Millikan win when multiple yellow cards were handed out around the hour mark. One of the substitutions to come on after the warnings was Rodriguez.
“He had to stretch for five to seven minutes and limped his way back on,” Brewer said. “We thought let’s throw him in as a striker where he can kind of stand around a little bit and that allowed us to have our best 11 on the field. Moving pieces around and him being versatile created that last chance.”
Rodriguez may be new to this Wilson team, but he said he’s familiar with a lot of the Bruins who he’s played weekend park games with.
“The more he plays with them the more we can keep possession in the middle,” Brewer said. “It’s not a perfect fit yet. The more they have game experience the more he can get there.”
Brewer added that he’s pleased with how his team has performed against Millikan.
“Millikan, give all respect to them, they’re the best team in our league, but we beat them and we tied them,” Brewer said. “They’re a good team and they help us to prepare for CIF. We’re not chasing league titles, we’re chasing getting better. I feel like we got better throughout the game. We’re excited for what we can do in the postseason in Division 2.”
Despite having a game in hand, Schofield said his strategy didn’t change when the Rams took an early lead.
“We were trying to win,” he said. “We felt like if we could win today it would’ve kind of been the knockout punch. But it didn’t happen.”
Millikan hosts Jordan on Thursday while Wilson hosts Compton.