In a Friday night, Jan. 26, match-up of Avocado West League boys' soccer heavyweights, No. 1-ranked Torrey Pines (15-0-2) remained undefeated with a 3-2 victory over No. 6 La Costa Canyon. In a game that both teams had once led, sophomore Jose Salgado delivered the knockout punch, breaking a 2-2 tie, in the 76th minute for the Falcons.
The win moved Torrey Pines to a league-leading 3-0-1 while LCC, now 2-2 (10-4-3 overall), slipped to third and will be looking to recapture its winning formula having lost two-in-a-row after a 3-1 upset defeat at San Dieguito Academy Wednesday prior.
The Mavericks hit the scoreboard first Friday night as senior Collin Wagstaff headed in a corner kick at the back post from junior Ryan Leonard with just 10 minutes elapsed. Trailing but still controlling the action, the Torrey Pines put steady pressure on the LCC goal. They finally broke through when Salgado deposited a nifty full volley from the penalty spot into the lower left corner of the net with 11 minutes remaining in the half.
The Falcon offense kept pushing and less than four minutes later-following LCC being whistled for pulling down TP senior Grayson Lerose just outside the box-junior Michael Mines blasted a 25-yd. free kick that outstretched keeper Gavin Simmons appeared to tip but couldn't keep out of the upper right corner.
Down, 2-1, final seven minutes prior to halftime were a bit desperate for the Mavericks as Torrey continued swarming but was unable to add a third goal which would have all but iced the outcome. "We basically weathered the storm," said LCC Head Coach Craig Dean. "We were playing with a short roster. It affected our rotations and forced us to play some guys a lot more minutes than we normally would.
"We know what they've got, how strong they are, and basically had to drop off a little bit defensively, accept that they would have possession most of the time and when we did win it, try to counter."
The Torrey Pines offensive storyline continued after the interval but Dean's side, anchored by the acrobatic Simmons, refused to crack. Then, at the midway point of the second half, Dean's hopes were answered as the Mavericks won a 50-50 ball on the Falcon side of midfield. It ended up on the feet of Leonard in the final third. He dished it to senior Jacob Chong near the end line left of the goal. Chong, an able scorer, may have had a tough angle shot but chose to return it to an unmarked Leonard who converted from short range.
"That was a couple of quality passes by our two front guys and a good finish," said Dean. "It woke us up and made it a game." With La Costa Canyon now the aggressor, it was Torrey Pines wobbling a bit for much of the final fourth of the contest but veteran Falcon Head Coach Andy Hargreaves was not surprised that his team found a way to recover and come away victorious.
"Our back four are tough to break down," said Hargreaves, highlighting senior center backs Cooper Geffen and Erik Herrera in particular. "Both LCC goals came in crossing situations where there was a touch or a head-we didn't get broken down.
"I felt we weren't going to give up any easy goals and as long as we were able to create some chances on the other end, we'd be OK."
The Falcons opportunity came off a corner kick at the 4:40 mark. In the aftermath, Salgado made an aggressive move on the ball, resulting in his second goal, the game-winner, prompting a sprint to the bleachers behind his team's bench where he shared a celebration with the home fans. Hargreaves was pleased to see practice turn into production.
"Jose's a young player and we've been harping on him to `get more brave when you don't expect to score,' particularly when there are throw-ins or corners," said Hargreaves. "We told him to look for the knockdown and get on that. He's kind of a goal poacher so it was cool to see him succeed at something we've been trying to get him to do."
The game wasn't over and LCC made a final surge that put them on the edge of knotting the match in a couple of different moments. But in the end, it was top-ranked Torrey Pines prevailing, to move two points up on second place Canyon Crest in the Avocado West standings and four ahead of LCC with six games to go.
"I think the one thing about this group is they've shown that they're pretty ambitious," said Hargreaves. "When LCC scored its second goal, they had the attitude that they weren't going to settle for a tie, particularly at home and against LCC."
For Dean, there was the expected disappointment, balanced by knowing it was a battle well fought against a formidable opponent. "It was a very exciting game, always is," said Dean. "The last 20 minutes we had them on their heels, shaking a bit, but that's a quality side.
"It starts with their coach, who reads the play very well. Their roster is deep and when they rotate, the level doesn't drop off. The players execute and have that hunger." According to Hargreaves, the rivals bring out the best in each other and the sport.
"Both teams know each other well and it's a bit feisty," he said. "But it's a great compliment that they can play on such a high level, at that tempo, and nobody makes it into a situation it shouldn't be. There's huge mutual respect."
Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon will play their return match, the last of the regular season for both, Friday, Feb. 16 at LCC.