Usually nothing is fair about a draw resulting from a quality soccer game, and that was the case for the Moore League girls’ soccer showdown between Long Beach Poly and Millikan on Thursday night.
The Rams had the vast majority of scoring opportunities during the end-to-end action, but the Jackrabbits equalized in the second half for a 1-1 draw.
“We’re definitely frustrated with the amount of chances we created and the type of chances we created,” Millikan coach Tino Nunez said. “But that’s how this game works. If you don’t put your chances away you give teams life. In these rivalry games you know they’re still going to get one, someway somehow.”
Millikan outshot Poly 14-6 and took a lead through Sierra Sythe just before halftime. Long Beach Poly equalized on a fantastic Isabella Yakel free kick in the 52nd minute.
“That was a demolition derby and the energy was off the chain both ways,” Poly coach Anthony Perez said. “It was nonstop action.”
Millikan (13-2-1, 4-0-1) still has the inside track to its fourth consecutive league title with two games left against first-place Wilson (8-6-3, 6-1-0) and games in hand over Poly (7-5-2, 4-2-1).
“I think we’re all frustrated but also an overall tie and a win against Poly isn’t bad at all,” Millikan captain Josie English said. “We just have to be ready for the next two games against Wilson and that’s what is going to decide it. I think we’ll be ready by then.”
The first Millikan and Wilson game is scheduled for next Thursday at Wilson.
“League is still up to us,” Nunez said. “We knew we were going to get everything from (Poly) because this game was their lifeline. I thought the girls did well to match that intensity and bring that energy. But you’ve got to put your chances away in these games. And we had plenty of chances in both halves.”
The Rams started the game on the front foot with Sythe leading the way on the left flank. They had two shots on goal before the Jackrabbits threatened on the other end. Sythe, Sydney Trump and Mya Delaney all had good looks at goal in the first 25 minutes, but Poly goalkeeper Kamy Anaya made quality saves. She and Kennedy Justin, who played the second half, finished with a combined six saves in the game.
Poly gained some footing by drawing fouls and earning a trio of corner kicks before the break, but could only muster one shot on goal in the opening half from Misha Hebert in the 20th minute.
“I think we needed to settle a little bit more in moments,” Perez said. “We had to switch that tempo slightly and it would’ve been a better outcome for us.”
The first goal of the game came in the 38th minute after a stretch of pressure from Millikan. The ball was cleared to the half-line and sent back in where it took a slight deflection. As she was finishing her run on the far side, the ball fell perfectly at the feet of Sythe and she took a touch before chipping it past the keeper.
“We have a lot of creative players in the midfield, we know what runs everyone is making and we talk to each other,” English said. “Like me and Hannah Marshall especially, and that was one of the opportunities we had, but we’ll get it next time.”
English found Marshall alone in the 18-yard box early in the second half, but her shot went just wide.An innocuous foul against the run of play in the Millikan end set up the 52nd minute free kick for Yakel.
“When we were down I was thinking about the last Wilson game and how my goal really started pushing our team forward to get the win, so I just knew I had to get that in to bring our energy up,” Yakel said.
Lining up her set piece shot from about 26 yards out off the corner of the box, Yakel drilled it home off the outstretched hand of Millikan keeper Jordan Mendoza and in just under the crossbar.
“Put it on frame, that’s the key,” Perez said. “She’s got a money hit and that’s her sweet spot.”
Yakel said she knew exactly how to get the ball on frame because she always goes to the new El Dorado Park turf field and practices similar free kicks.
“I think it takes practice,” Yakel said. “I go to the park by myself to practice and I just know the angle I have to be at in order to just drive it in. The way I drove it I felt like it was going in.”
Poly only got one more clear cut scoring opportunity before the final whistle, but the Jackrabbits were also able to limit the Rams to only a few half chances at the other end after equalizing.
“Being able to apply organized pressure was the key,” Perez said. “If you give them space to come at you they’re dangerous. (Better after the goal) because the hunger kicked in. At first we did a really good job of that, then we kind of got a little loose, but then once we got that goal we went back at it.”
Despite not having a lot of time on the field together this season due to injuries and other issues, Poly has looked better every game this year.
“It’s our bond outside the field,” Yakel added. “We really have good chemistry at school and stuff. We hang out in the same area, and on game days we’re all hyped up at lunch. That really helps bring our energy out when we play.”
Millikan is No. 4 in the latest CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll.