As if facing one of the top teams in the Southern Section wasn’t enough of a challenge, the Rams were without a few of their starters for their home contest against Servite on Friday night. Millikan, who came into Friday’s game having drawn both of their first two matches, knew that a win in this one would be a tall task. Nonetheless, the Rams more than held their own for 70 of the 80 minutes, until a couple of late goals from Servite saw the Friars capture a lopsided 5-1 victory.
The scoreline was anything but a true reflection of this match. Heading into the final 12 minutes, Servite had a 2-1 advantage, but Millikan appeared to have momentum, after a great start to the second half saw them pull a goal back via penalty.
In the end however, Servite’s potent attack–led by UC Santa Barbara commit Eduardo Villeda–could only be held in check for so long by the hardworking Millikan backline, which did well to keep it a one-goal game deep into the second half.
“When it was 2-1, Millikan had got their energy back, but when we scored the third goal it kind of took the wind out of their sails,” said Servite coach Bobo Siguera, when speaking on the importance of midfielder Eddie Villeda’s goal, in the 69th minute. “He’s one of the best center mids in Southern California,” continued Siguera. “It’s really hard to defend against his creativity, and what he does in regards to making the team better.”
For much of the match, the Friars looked to attack down the left wing, through forward Luke DaVanon and left back Austin Dang. Both Dang and DaVanon put immense pressure on Millikan defender’s Issac Machuca and Conner McCoy, who were equal to the Servite attack for much of the first half.
When speaking on the defensive effort of his team, Millikan coach Jeff Schofield added, “I thought Noah Scott came in and played really well. Also, Heath Pablico had a really good game at both defense and center mid.” Along with McCoy and Machuca, Scott and Pablico were key defensive contributors for the short-handed Rams.
When the breakthrough finally came for Servite it was down the left flank, but not from open play. A 28th minute freekick gave Villeda an opportunity to swing in a cross to the back post, where he found defender J.T. Danks, whose header had just enough power on it to cross the goalline and give the Friars a 1-0 lead.
Despite controlling possession in the first half, Servite found most of their success going forward, whilst counter attacking. This was the case for Servite’s second goal, as Millikan’s
commitment of numbers forward gave Villeda space to run into, down the left wing. Villeda then put in another cross to the back post, where Servite’s Justin Faison found enough space to head the ball into the back of the net, giving Servite a 2-0 lead heading to halftime.
“At halftime we changed formations to have more numbers forward,” explained Schofield. “We also put more numbers towards putting them under pressure. I think they had been comfortable in that first half, so they weren’t ready to be pressed.”
This higher press completely flipped the momentum of the match, as Millikan came out in the second half and began playing with much more possession.
“They came out in the second half and they had two guys pushing forward, and we only had one guy back,” explained coach Siguera. This man advantage in the final third, allowed Millikan to force a number of errors from the Servite backline.
The most notable of these mistakes was the penalty that the Friars conceded in the 50th minute, which was cooly finished by Rams forward Juan Ramirez, as he cut the deficit to 2-1.
“We scheduled Servite because we want to compare ourselves to who a lot of people consider to be the best team,” said Schofield. “I thought for a big part of the game we were very competitive. It was 2-1 for a long time, so I think we can gain some confidence from that.”
Unfortunately for the Rams however, they were never able to get an equalizer, as Servite made a few tactical changes that helped them regain control of the match, after Millikan cut the lead in half.
“We couldn’t play out because they were high pressing us,” said coach Siguera. “So we dropped another midfielder, in order to have a double pivot. When we were eventually able to play out, then it made it easier for us to break lines and get forward, and that’s what created opportunities for us in the final third”.
The impact of these changes showed in the final 12 minutes, which saw Servite score three goals to put the game to bed.
The first of these three was a bouncing shot from Villeda, which squeaked through the arms of the Millikan keeper, and restored the Friars’ two goal advantage down the stretch. Villeda would later win a penalty, to add to his impressive stat-line of one goal and two assists.
Servite’s fourth goal of the match was by far the most impressive, as winger Luke DaVanon found midfielder Jahir Gonzalez Sandoval in enough on the edge of the box, for Gonzalez Sandoval to bend a beautiful shot across the face of the goal, and into the top-right corner. The Friars’ then added a fifth in the dying minutes as goalkeeper Merrick Cook stepped up to finish a penalty that was won by Villeda.
“This game exposed some weaknesses of things that we need to work on,” explained Schofield. “We have to play fast against teams, and sometimes we’re gonna play against big, strong, and athletic players, so we have to be able to manage that”.
Despite Millikan’s tough loss, Siguera offered words of praise for the Rams, saying “I think Millikan has a really good team, and at the end of the season they’ll be the best team in the Moore League. Right now they’re kind of young, but they’ll look a lot better come the end of the year.”