In surely one of most important, closely-contested games of the season in the Coachella Valley, the girls’ soccer team at Palm Desert High School erased a three-goal first half deficit to secure a 4-4 tie after extra time with Cathedral City on Tuesday night.
Cathedral City struck early, scoring two goals — both by sophomore striker Azalea Guanajuato — within the first 11 minutes.
The third goal came in the 23rd minute on a corner kick header by freshman Aylin Figueroa Uribe, and the Lions were out to what appeared to be an insurmountable lead.
But the Aztecs were never really out of it.
They came back from a two-goal deficit against the Lions on Jan. 7 to win, 3-2, and the team clung to that glimmer of hope even when facing what outsiders may have viewed as the beginning of a blowout.
“I give them credit, they never gave up,” Cathedral City head coach Jorge Polanco said. “Even when it was 3-nil, they kept pushing, pushing, and it was only a matter of time before we broke.”
To mix up his formation, Palm Desert head coach Chris Keuilian moved forward Madison Cosgrove to the wing, and that seemed to spark the Aztecs. Cosgrove netted a pair of goals in the final minutes of the first half to make it a close game heading into the intermission.
“That was huge,” Keuilian said. “Nobody got down, nobody yelled at each other. We talked about, ‘We’ve come back from two, maybe we can come back from three.’
“To steal that last goal just before halftime was enormous.”
With a boost of newly discovered confidence, Palm Desert neutralized the Lions in the second half, pushing the offense with the long ball while successfully keeping the ball out of the hands of the Cathedral City playmakers.
“We knew that we could pass up the middle on their midfield,” Polanco said. “But we lost intensity in the middle. We didn’t put pressure on them, and that’s what happens.”
The Aztecs had squandered four breakaways on the long ball, but finally broke through in the 66th minute.
On Palm Desert’s third goal, to send it to extra time, Cosgrove brought ball toward the goal unguarded on the wing and passed it off to teammate Afton Kalkoske for the easy lay-in.
Palm Desert’s resilience was evident again in extra time. The Lions scored in the second 10-minute period when junior captain Miyah Coleman scored on a putback after her breakaway goal was blocked. Seconds later, however, Palm Desert freshman Kaci Holliday found the back of the net on the other end, making up for a ball she put on the left goalpost moments earlier.
“This game, we had them two times,” Polanco said. “We had that game won twice and they came back.
“I don’t even know what to say.”
The tie gives La Quinta High sole possession of first place in the Desert Valley League standings, at 8-1, after a 5-0 win over Coachella Valley on Tuesday. Palm Desert is in second at 7-1-1, and Cathedral City is in third at 7-2-1.
Even with a win, Palm Desert would have needed to defeat La Quinta next week in their regular season finale to claim the league crown. A loss, would have all but rendered the Aztecs’ title hopes moot.
“The main thing we had to do here tonight, on the road, is to least get a result,” Keuilian said. “If we had lost the game, we would have had to beat La Quinta, and that would have formed a three-way tie, and then we’ve all beaten each other and it would have been just nasty.
“The fact that we got at least a point, it’s huge.”
Added Polanco: “We can still finish second. But if we had just won here, we had a legitimate shot at first.”
Instead, it will likely come down to La Quinta and Palm Desert for the DVL crown, which is something that appeared to be unimaginable just 25 minutes into Tuesday’s contest.
“This is huge for us, for our confidence moving forward,” Keuilian said. “And if we can play well and beat La Quinta, we’ll look back to here as when the league was won.”