The562’s coverage of Millikan athletics in the 2023-24 school year is sponsored by Curtis Boyer.
Millikan desperately needed some coaching at halftime of its CIF Southern Section Division 1 boys’ soccer second-round game at home on Friday.
After a lackluster opening 40 minutes, the Rams came to the sideline disappointed with themselves and argumentative with each other.
“You saw them as they came off, it was like a bicker fest,” said Millikan coach Jeff Schofield. “I told them, ‘Don’t talk to anybody for a few minutes,’ and then just to try and give them a game plan with some confidence so they believed it. Then they executed it.”
The cool off period was followed by Schofield and his coaches changing the Rams formation from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 in hopes of gaining more possession and mismatches.
“We just felt like we couldn’t keep the ball at all in the first half,” said Schofield. “So we said, ‘Let’s put two forwards up there and maybe we can win some balls and flick some headers on and get in behind,’ which we did.”
One of those forwards, Aaron De Leon, made his coach look like a genius and scored twice in the second half to help the Rams win 2-0 and advance to the quarterfinals. Millikan will visit Harvard Westlake on Tuesday for their first quarterfinal appearance since 2015.
“Honestly I walked into this game with confidence, but in the first half every time I got the ball I would lose it,” said De Leon. “Same with my teammates, we were not good. In the second half, we changed the formation with Schofield’s tactics, and that helped us out a lot.”
Since giving up an early goal in the first round, Millikan goalkeeper Diego Ramirez and his defense have played 158 consecutive minutes without giving up a goal while only allowing four shots on goal. Ramirez thinks the tactical change also helped the Rams defense.
“When the pressure starts ramping up it really helps because you basically have three center backs to deal with two forwards,” said Ramirez. “We have the extra man so we can win headers and have cover.”
The clunky first half from both sides begat only six total shots, and nothing very threatening. The only notable stat was Millikan being whistled for eight fouls while Citrus Hill was only guilty of two. However, Ramirez bravely came off his line to rise and receive multiple set piece services.
After halftime, Millikan looked and played like the team that won a second consecutive Moore League title this year. De Leon and fellow forward Owen Edwards were able to get more involved and play off the flooded midfield.
“In the second half we came out with intensity and hunger,” Ramirez said. “I don’t think we had that in the first half.”
In the 60th minute, Millikan midfielder Sergio Flores pounced on a loose ball at the top of the box and dribbled to the end line where he sent in a bouncing cross. De Leon met it in front of goal and finished with one touch into the far side netting.
“He just has such a nose for the goal,” said Schofield of De Leon. “He had been off a little bit, hadn’t scored in three games which is a drought for him. You could tell he was frustrated at the end of the first half. So I’m glad to see him come back in the second half and be successful.”
In the 65th minute, De Leon was on the end of another sharp cross that he redirected home.
“The first one went to my dominant foot and I knew where the goalie was so I tapped it the opposite way, but the second one the ball was just coming fast so I just swung my leg and hoped for the best,” said De Leon.
De Leon went on to credit the Rams substitutes for their energetic contributions, and the senior thinks the desire to keep playing is paramount.
“It’s just the motivation to go to the next round, that’s what helps us get our heads up,” De Leon said of getting over frustration at halftime. “If you keep your head down you’re going to keep playing like s***.”
Millikan hopes to roll this momentum into the quarterfinals at Harvard Westlake on Tuesday.
“We need to be 100 percent focused and block out the outside noise,” Ramirez said. “All that matters is the game.”