The saying “football’s a funny old game” was coined to describe games just like the one Desert Mirage lost in their CIF-SS Division 4 quarterfinal Saturday night.
Despite dominating for large stretches of the game, including the opening half ,and the final 15 minutes, the Rams’ 10-game playoff streak ended at the hands of Anaheim Western, 1-0. The Pioneers got the only goal of the game from star man Alex Trujillo in the 62nd minute, and they advance to play the Bellflower on Tuesday in the Division 4 semifinals. Bellflower defeated Cathedral City, 1-0, Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a game. In every game, there’s a winner and a loser, and today, we were the loser,” a tearful Desert Mirage coach Peter Zamora said afterward. “We won 10 playoff games in a row, if you watch the game, there was opportunity after opportunity after opportunity, and normally we finish them. Today, we didn’t.”
Western (13-11-1) had a hard time dealing with Desert Mirage from the opening kickoff. The Rams secured the ball and maintained possession, and forced a goal mouth scramble when Western goalkeeper Herman Cortez spilled a cross in the fourth minute, but Cortez was able to recover the loose ball.
Desert Mirage (22-5) continued to boss the ball, finding plenty of time and space in the center of the park. It seemed only a matter of time before one of their crosses or conterattacks would pay. Rams’ junior captain Alejandro Pimentel, constantly the danger man, got free in eighth minute, and his close-range shot from a sharp angle sent Cortez diving to the ground to palm the ball over the goal line.
Western showed its first burst of offense in the 13th minute when Trujillo took advantage of miscommunication between two Rams defenders, and dealt a pass to Brandon Varela, whose shot from eight yards out was beaten away by Rams’ junior goalkeeper Jesus Negrete.
However, for the most part, the Rams spent the entire first half buzzing the Pioneers penalty area, while Western’s offensive forays came solely from Rams’ turnovers in the midfield, and Route One counterattacks after sustained Desert Mirage possession.
The second half started quickly for both teams, but soon morphed into a cagey affair. With each passing minute, both teams became more and more mindful of the importance of a crucial mistake, or the game’s first goal.
Then it happened. Western’s Martin Ibanez won a turnover along the left flank, and sent in a pinpoint pass to Trujillo some eight yards out from the penalty area. Trujillo decided it was close enough to have a go, and it was, as his low, left-footed drive curled away from Negrete and into the lower right corner of the net, giving Western a 1-0 lead in the 62nd minute.
The expected response from the Rams was swift. Within three minutes of going ahead, the Pioneers survived a handball claim and a header off the crossbar. Cortez became busier than ever, having to come off his line to snuff out threat after threat.
As the match entered the final 10 minutes, Desert Mirage disposed with defensive thoughts and pushed forward for the equalizer, while the Pioneers abandoned offense in an effort to park the bus. The Rams’ last best chance came in the 86th minute when senior midfielder Jesus Rodriguez ran down a through ball at the goal line and cut back a cross that found unmarked freshman forward Erick Serrano, but Serrano hit the shot over the crossbar from near the penalty spot.
“Well, it was a great match two great teams played, what can I say?” said Western coach John Neeper. “They gave it their all and we gave it our all, and somebody had to win.”
Western 1, Desert Mirage 0
(Alex Trujillo, 62)
MAN OF THE MATCH: Alex Trujillo, Western senior forward: Despite a lack of service all night, Trujillo managed to get the winner, and also created several other chances with solo efforts. He was always dangerous on the ball, and always a threat to have a shot anywhere inside 30 yards. He also dropped back into the midfield in the second half, initially to present himself for passes, then later, to help protect the Pioneers’ lead.
THE SUPPORT: Herman Cortez, Western junior goalkeeper: Cortez never looked dominant in his area, but he was quick to the ground, sufficient in the air, and keenly perceptive when danger was coming down the pike. He was also quick to come off his line to decisively and, when necessary, bravely collect threatening balls.
NOTABLE: Western goalkeeper Herman Cortez made 17 saves in the match, while Desert Mirage’s goalkeeper Jesus Negrete was called on to make nine stops, and five of those saves came off shots by Trujillo….Only one yellow card was issued in the match. Western’s Leo Lopez was booked for delay of game in the 68th minute…Desert Mirage coach Peter Zamora vowed afterward his team would regroup and come again next season. “We moved up to Division 4, and nothing is easy in Division 4. But I’m proud of our boys, and we’ll be back.”