Arabs fall in soccer stunner

Arabs fall in soccer stunner

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Arabs fall in soccer stunner

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THERMAL

Four senior teammates stood huddled, embracing each other only moments before walking off the field for the final time as a soccer player at Coachella Valley High School.

There they gathered for 15 seconds that felt like eternity, tears streaming down their faces, brothers in a finish that didn’t have a storybook ending.

“Hold your heads up,” Arabs head coach Adrian Barragan told his players as they encircled him following a devastating 1-0 loss to Colton in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs.

“Going from fifth place to first,” Barragan continued, “that’s a great season in my book.”

But the season, in part because of Coachella Valley’s first-place finish in the Desert Valley League, was supposed to last much longer. The Arabs finished the regular season 6-1-1 in their last eight games, outscoring opponents 19-3.

Through the first part of Thursday’s match, Coachella Valley (13-6-2) didn’t appear to have the wherewithal to continue down such a torrid path. The struggles to just stay afloat were evident.

“I could see early on that our guys came out a little flat,” Barragan said. “They were nervous.”

The game was littered with injuries, real or fabricated. The physical play drew a dozen yellow cards. Some of them set the two teams up with free kicks. On one occasion, it provided Colton (11-11-3) with a penalty shot and forced starting CV goalie Luis Lemas out of the game for the rest of the first half.

“The explanation I got was that our goalie jumped with his cleats extended out,” Barragan said. “I didn’t see that at all, but that was the call they made.”

Lemas exited the game and his replacement, Samuel Alvarez, was thrust into action to defend the shot. Junior striker Juan Luna took five steps back, charged the ball and fired it to the left side of the goal. Alvarez lunged for the ball, but missed it by two inches.

The Colton bench erupted.

Colton maintained the lead into the second half, chewing up the clock playing keep-away from the Arabs, limiting their scoring opportunities.

And it worked. Though Coachella Valley had an entire half to generate some offense, trailing in a playoff game they were expected to win changed the Arabs’ approach. Their vulnerability took away some of their killer instinct.

“That really threw us off,” said senior Jerry Avalos, a four-year defender. “We used so much energy just trying to play from behind in the second half.”

Said Barragan, “It changed the way we play the game. We were playing not to lose instead of playing to win.”

Then hope sprung. With 20 minutes to play, Colton midfielder Christian Huape was issued a red card and the Yellowjackets were forced to play 10-on-11. There was still a chance for CV.

But fatigued from scrambling to save their season, the Arabs were unable to capitalize. They had four shots on goal in the final 20 minutes and extended play, yet none of them were uncontested.

“When you hear a name like Coachella Valley, you sort of cringe and your hair stands up because they’re a soccer powerhouse,” Colton head coach Armando Ponce said. “In the three times I’ve played them, this is the first time I’ve beaten them.”

As the final minutes of the game waged on, and more players shuffled to the sidelines with injuries, reality began to settle in. The comeback just wasn’t going to happen.

Moments before the final whistle blew, Ponce couldn’t contain himself.

“It’s over!” Ponce exclaimed from the sideline. “It’s over!”

“It is,” Barragan said afterward. “But I’m so proud of my guys. We had a great season, and tomorrow I begin working on next year.”

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