Long Beach Poly was 10 minutes away from pulling Wilson back to the Moore League boys’ soccer chase pack while also putting itself in position to grab a third consecutive league title.
Wilson’s Luke Garza had other plans.
A shift in formation put Garza in perfect position to net the equalizer in the 70th minute and earn a 1-1 result on Friday night at Poly. The Bruins (6-0-1) remain alone in first place thanks to the draw that leaves the Jackrabbits (5-1-2) alone in second place.
“That was a crazy game,” Poly coach Eric Leon said. “I think we did enough to get the three points but we just couldn’t capitalize or finish that last touch to create that last play. But we didn’t lose. We didn’t lose any points or gain any points.”
“We’re happy with a tie,” Wilson coach CJ Brewer said.
Poly took a lead in the sixth minute off a corner kick from Jesus Villa Gomez. The senior bounced a cross to the top of the box where Luke Brown one-touched it in off the crossbar with his left foot.
“I played club with him for a few years and we’re both lefties so we see the field the same way,” Brown said. “That’s a play we’ve been working on. It’s worked every time, we just haven’t had that finishing touch, but I managed to put it in that top corner.”
The Jackrabbits maintained its momentum and outshot the Bruins 4-1 in the first half. Wilson didn’t have a shot on goal until the second half, and was clearly struggling with three starters out of the lineup due to illness.
“We had to have other guys step up,” Brewer said. “We had to go to our bench. I feel like we couldn’t match (Poly’s) intensity because we had a lot of players who had to play the whole game.”
The second half was relatively even despite Poly outshooting the visitors 7-4 in the game. Both teams had good looks at goal, but the Jackrabbits seemed to be in control until the 70th minute.
“Our boys said that we need to put Luke up there with that matchup,” Brewer said of moving Garza up top. “It worked a few times, he was able to get in behind, so I’m not surprised (he scored). We knew it was coming. We knew that was an area we could exploit his strength and their weakness.”
The equalizing goal came off a ball sent back into the box by defender Kian Lawrence. It bounced twice in the box and Garza met it with one lunging touch to send it over Poly goalkeeper Amir Diaz Espinoza.
“I was waiting for the flick, so once I saw that come over I just went for the tap in,” Garza said.
“You have to give credit where credit is due, those (Wilson) kids work hard and they don’t stop,” Leon said. “Those are characteristics that will help you in the long run.”
Poly had the better scoring chances in the final 10 minutes, but Wilson goalkeeper Gavin Pool Harris and his defense maintained its hold on the draw. Pool Harris had five saves. Diaz Espinoza had two.
“It starts with everyone,” Garza said of making up for missing starters. “Everyone has to fight. It’s not just going to take one person. It’s about the energy from the whole team. Knowing that we were missing starters pushed us more.”
Poly was also missing a key starter in midfielder Omar Juarez, who is still out after suffering a head injury on Monday.
“Omar is a very huge part of our midfield, his physical presence and technicality really opens up the game for us,” Brown said. “But there are players we have on the bench like (Steve Marquez and Jonathan Flores) who have a different sort of style that benefit us in different ways.”
Despite getting a point against the first-place Bruins, Brown wasn’t happy with the result.
“Disappointment is the first word that pops into my mind,” Brown said. “We had them on the ropes up until that one play, and even after that we were still managing to get up the field. It was a combination of not staying totally solid defensively and not being able to finish chances.”
Poly hosts Compton and Jordan next week before visiting Millikan on Friday for an important match. Wilson has games against Cabrillo and Jordan next week.
“I’m very optimistic and hopefully that someone else can get some points off of those guys,” Leon said.