As it does every year, Moore League boys’ soccer continues to bring excitement, with strong competition top to bottom fueling a number of unpredictable results. Coming into Friday’s match, two-time defending Moore League champion Long Beach Poly was in search of valuable points on the road at Jordan. The Panthers managed to stifle most–but not all–Poly attacks and convert on a crucial penalty, in order to secure an impressive 1-1 home draw.
Throughout this match both sides were even, but the pace of play changed as the game went on. A cagey and foul-filled first half was contrasted by a much more open and attacking second half.
“We kept possession better (in the second half),” said Jordan head coach Deyan Doychev, who praised his team’s second half performance during their postgame team-talk. “We had more chances to attack, not only starting from the back, but also through the midfield and forwards.”
Likewise, Poly head coach Eric Leon applauded his team’s second-half attack, explaining, “I think offensively we had good ideas in the second half, and did a better job of playing as a group.”
Circling back to the first half, a Jordan player receiving a yellow card inside the first five minutes, foreshadowed the hefty sum of fouls that accumulated for both teams. Many of the fouls came from aerial duels, as both defenses and goal keepers attempted to spray long balls to their forwards and midfielders.
“In the first half, the ball was bouncing all over the place, and we couldn’t maintain possession,” said coach Doychev. Doychev also elaborated on his team’s attacking gameplan, by saying that long balls over the top were, “Sunday league plays. I encourage them to play more short and long passes on the ground, so that they can easily connect to one another.”
When the two teams weren’t battling for possession in midfield during the first half, they spent much of their time on the flanks. At first, it seemed as if attacking down the flanks would be better suited for the Jackrabbit attack, as forwards Kevin Herejon and Anner Aguilar used their pace to stretch the Jordan defense at times. However, the only goal of the first-half came from the Panthers, who took a 1-0 after Victor Monterola converted a penalty in the 36th minute.
“I believe it’s very important to get ahead in a match before the second half,” said Doychev. “I felt like one goal wasn’t enough, but we were still ahead, which I think gave us a little more confidence in the second half.”
The Jackrabbits were left cursing their luck as they entered halftime, especially because of the manner in which they conceded the penalty.
As Jordan’s Angel Valencia received the ball on the right wing he attempted to put a low cross into the box, which happened to find the arm of a Poly defender who had slipped in the penalty area.
“When I approached the referee at halftime, I addressed it,” said Leon. “You have to keep in consideration that the field surface is bad. Also there was no one for Jordan behind that ball, so even if he hadn’t touched it, our guy would’ve gotten it and cleared it. I think that shouldn’t have been a penalty kick but at the end of the day the referees make the decisions.”
Carrying the momentum that they had from the end of the first half, Jordan had a number of good chances to start the second. The best of these was a beautiful Angel Valencia strike from the top of the box, which sliced a little too much and ended up narrowly missing the top right corner.
Momentum shifted once again however, as Poly took greater control of the match in the 50th minute, when Antony Martinez Urrutia found the back of the net with an impressive half volley from the edge of the penalty area. This equalizer made it 1-1, the scoreline that would hold till the end.
“He had missed a couple of weeks due to vacation during the winter break,” said Leon, when speaking on Urrutia’s impact. “He started building good momentum (when he came on) in the first half, and carried it on into the second half. Lots of energy from that kid … and he was most definitely a spark for us offensively.”
Urrutia’s goal also came against the run of play, and appeared to catch the Jordan defense off guard. It started with a quick throw in down the left wing from Lucas Scott to Omar Juarez, who took a few touches before finding Urrutia in space with a cross-field pass.
“We know that (long throws are) something we have in our arsenal,” said Leon. “We know we have two players on the field in Lucas Scott and Victor Kagurabadza, who can just throw the ball a solid 60 yards across the field. They know that right away when they get a quick ball, they should serve it up. Most of the time, defenders aren’t ready and we catch them asleep.”
After equalizing, Poly spent most of the final thirty minutes on the attack, as they took the final 6 shots of the game, many of which were from range.
“Our concept is definitely to try to work the ball into the box, but Jordan does have a good goalkeeper, so I told my guys to be unpredictable,” said Leon. “Our objective was to try to keep it from different ranges to keep the defense on their toes.”
Both goalkeepers (Daniel Barragan for Jordan and Amir Diaz Espinoza for Poly) did well to handle the pressure down the stretch and not concede a winner.
In addition to Barragan, Jordan’s Alexis Pliego and captain Heriberto Beltran came up with a number of key blocks and tackles, to prevent Poly from netting a go-ahead goal in the final 30 minutes.
Both teams have huge games coming up on Monday, as Poly travels to take on Millikan, and Jordan is visiting Wilson, who currently sit at the top of the Moore League table.