Entering Monday night’s match against Lakewood, Poly knew that a win in their opening match would be a crucial step towards retaining their Moore League title, as the Jackrabbits look to win three consecutive championships for the first time in program history. A passionate and intense Lakewood side aimed to spoil the Jackrabbits’ home opener, but just couldn’t stop Poly’s Luke Brown, who scored a hat-trick to lead his team to a huge 5-0 over the Lancers.
“I have a lot of respect for Lakewood,” said Brown. “They’ve always been a very good technical team and they’ve upset a lot of the teams in the Moore League over the past few years, so winning 5-0 against a great Lakewood team is definitely a statement.”
Coming into the match, there were some questions surrounding the Poly attack, which only managed to score once in their three preseason matches–albeit, against three top programs in: Cathedral, Mission Viejo, and San Clemente. With doubts looming about their goal scoring the Jackrabbits looked to start fast and get out to an early lead, which is exactly what they did.
Almost directly from kickoff the ball found defender Roque Alvarez, who launched a beautiful long pass to forward Kevin Herejon on the right flank. Herejon then raced past multiple defenders before cutting inside and finishing from a tight angle, giving Poly a 1-0 lead after just 30 seconds.
“That was straight improvisation,” said Poly head coach Eric Leon, when asked about whether or not the opening goal had been a planned play. “I did say that I wanted to make sure we got forward right away. Roque delivered a great ball, and Kevin used his pace before putting away a great goal.”
Similar to the first goal, the Jackrabbits’ second was also worked down the right side. This time however, Poly forward Omar Juarez set up Brown for the first of his three goals, as Juarez’s cross from the right wing proved to be the perfect height for Brown, who leaped high above two Lakewood defenders and lobbed in a beautiful header, doubling Poly’s advantage inside 10 minutes.
“Playing with guys like Omar and David [Huerta] on my flank is really helpful, and over the past three games I think we’ve all played really well together,” said Brown, who had loads of praise for his fellow attackers.
Others like Jesus Gomez and Anner Aguilar also got involved for the Jackrabbits going forward. First was Gomez, whose cross from the left flank found Brown for his second headed goal of the match, giving Poly a 3-0 in the 13th minute. Aguilar’s assist came in the second half, as his low cross from the right side found Brown in the middle of the box for an easy finish, and Poly’s 5th goal of the match
“We’re a very strong offensive team,” said Brown. “We have a lot of speed, a lot of pace, and a lot of skill, and I feel like that really helped us today.”
The Jackrabbits also remained sturdy at the back, especially in the first half. During the opening 40 minutes, the Lancers did their best to break down the Jackrabbit defense, down both the left flank and through the middle. However, the aforementioned Roque Alvarez, and fellow center back Lucas Scott, formed a fantastic pairing in the middle, breaking down multiple Lakewood counter attacks and keeping the Lancers off the scoresheet.
Part of the Jackrabbits game plan in this first half was to get guys involved off their bench, as coach Leon made six substitutions during this time.
“We have strength in numbers,” said Leon. “We have a great rotation and we try to give every player an opportunity to show what they got, so that we can get ready for the second part of the season and the playoffs.”
Of the Poly’s first half substitutes, defender Victor Kagurabadza had one of the biggest impacts off the bench. Not only did he provide key defensive support as part of the backline, but he also put pressure on the Lakewood defense with a number of long throw-ins.
“I wouldn’t really say I practice my throws too much,” said Kagurabadza. “It’s just sort of something that I can do, and I feel like I really utilized it well today.”
The most impressive of these throws came in the 23rd minute, as Kagurabadza launched the ball nearly 40 yards down the left flank, releasing David Huerta into the box before he was fouled, and awarded a penalty. Huerta stepped up and converted with ease, giving Poly a 4-0 lead going into halftime.
Despite the fact that they didn’t get a goal during the second half, the Lancers looked like a completely different team coming out of the break.
“I think they showed a lot of heart,” said Lakewood head coach Alex Diaz when speaking on his team’s second half effort. “We didn’t change our formation, we just asked for our guys to come out, compete, and show heart and pride, no matter what the score was.”
Lakewood’s rejuvenated second-half attack was largely a testament to guys like Santiago Sandoval, and Alberto Munoz, both of whom created a number of chances for the Lancers, in a second half that saw the team take 11 total shots.
“Respect to them for keeping up the intensity,” said Jackrabbits goalkeeper Amir Diaz-Espinoza. “It would’ve been very easy for them to be discouraged, but they didn’t let up at all. Specifically down the right side, they touched the ball really well, and they did open us several times. I had to make a few stops, but at the end of the day our defense stepped up and we were able to defend when we needed to.”
Coach Leon also said, “Amir kept us in the game in the second half, with a number of big stops.”
Diaz-Espinoza ended with five crucial second half saves, and six saves in total, to cap off a superb performance in between the sticks.
After Monday night’s win, the Jackrabbits will have very little time to celebrate, as they travel to Wilson on Wednesday to take on a Bruins team that defeated Millikan in their opening match of the season. Lakewood will also be back in action on Wednesday, as they host Compton for their Moore League home opener.