Torrey Pines Head Coach Martyn Hansford said “character, guts and determination” were the qualities responsible for winning Wednesday night’s showdown between the two top-ranked girls’ soccer teams in San Diego. That, and a pair of early goals, lifted his No. 1 Falcons to a 2-0 victory over No. 2 visitor Carlsbad.
For all practice purposes, this one was settled early. From the perspective of losing coach Dean Balent, who said before the game that a fast start would be crucial to his team’s success, the first 15 minutes were nightmarish. Less than five minutes into the contest, Torrey Pines senior Chloe Gallo collared an entry pass up top, fed unmarked sophomore star Tatum Lenain and it was 1-0 before fans were settled in.
The bigger, more aggressive Falcons continued to press and struck again at the 14:48 mark as sophomore Jordan Rowell elevated to get on the end of a well-placed free kick by senior Kyra Klemke from nearly 40 yards out and headed it into the left corner of the net. That put Carlsbad and its first-year coach just where they didn’t want to be.
“The first goal caught us completely off guard,” said first-year Carlsbad Head Coach Dean Balent, whose team is now 11-4. “We hadn’t been scored on early like that all season and I think took us by surprise. It wasn’t until the middle of the first half that we were finally able to settle down and start playing our game—not forcing things so much.”
The Lancers, who have a fleet set of forwards, largely responsible for compiling eight goals in their first two Avocado West League outings of the year, started to force the action. Headed by shifty freshman Lexi Wright, likely the smallest player on the field and a three-goal scorer in last week’s Avo West opener vs. Canyon Crest, Carlsbad looked like it might be capable of getting back in the contest. But there was the matter of cracking the Falcons’ re-aligned defense. That was largely responsible for Wednesday’s result.
Prior to the match, a confident Hansford had said, “we expect a good game and know we can’t play the way we did against Canyon Crest (a 1-1 tie) last week, but if we play our game the way we can, that should decide the outcome.” He was right, only it wasn’t Torrey Pines’ typical game his side was playing.
Dropping in an extra defender to give him four on the back line proved to be an effective approach for dealing with Carlsbad’s quickness. Balent’s flyers were able to threaten but never break through.
“We knew they had a bit of pace we would have to deal with so we changed up our formation and threw in a couple of new wrinkles to try to put a little pressure on them offensively,” explained Hansford, whose team remained undefeated at 13-0-3. “With our back four, we were always able to have one player attack the ball and still cover behind.
“Tactically, up 2-0, in the second half we knew it was going to be a barrage with them throwing a lot at us, but we thought if we kept it tight we would be OK. It’s not the best way for us to play, but sometimes you have to respect and respond to the opposition. If we had been too open, they very well might have pulled one back and you never know what happens then.”
For his part, Balent believed his squad’s first half defensive lapses played into Torrey’s hands. “I feel like we have enough quality and speed but we just weren’t executing right early on,” he said. “We were trying to chip the ball in against players who are three inches taller than our forwards.
“And in the second half, they basically packed it in with three or four defenders back there all the time. That’s tough to break down. It was like a white wall.”
The triumph vaults the two-time defending CIF and reigning Avocado West champion Falcons (2-0-1) back into sole possession of first place on the league ladder with Carlsbad just one point behind at 2-1-0. Although Wednesday night’s tilt was on the front end of the conference schedule, Hansford knew it was an important one for his team.
“A loss would have put us five points behind them—not an impossible task but certainly difficult,” said Hansford. “I’ve talked to the girls about coming into league as an undefeated team, that you can’t be complacent and expect to win. They saw what happened at Canyon Crest last week and the credit tonight goes to the girls. They were a totally different team.”
For Balent & Co., it’s time to learn from mistakes, regroup and return to fight another day. “We have a good team and weren’t a full strength,” said Balent afterwards. “We’ll get to play them again (Friday, Feb. 9 at Carlsbad) but we have to be better.
“We gave up a cheap early goal tonight and it changed everything. It put us at a deficit and playing a team like Torrey Pines, that is used to winning big games, you just can’t do that.”