Top-ranked Torrey Pines boys outlast SDA in soccer showdown

Torrey Pines senior Eli Zelkind is in celebration mode after scoring a first half goal.
Torrey Pines senior Eli Zelkind is in celebration mode after scoring a first half goal.
(Ken Grosse)

What looked like a walk in the park early turned into a nailbiter late as No. 1-ranked Torrey Pines (CIF D-1 power rankings) survived a comeback effort by visiting San Dieguito Academy (SDA) to post a 3-2 North Coastal League boys’ soccer victory Thursday night, Feb. 3.

The win over the No. 5 Mustangs improved Torrey Pines’ season record to 15-2-2 and their league ledger to 5-2-1. SDA dropped to 13-5-5/4-2-2. The result, coupled with Carlsbad’s 1-1 tie at Sage Creek, left the Falcons deadlocked with Carlsbad atop the NCL standings with 11 points. SDA is third with 10 points followed by CCA another point back.

Torrey Pines applied pressure from the outset. A quick, well-organized possession game had SDA reeling in its own end and uber-aggressive defensive tactics to kept the Mustang offense bottled up. San Dieguito Head Coach Michael Elenz-Martin said as much afterward.

SDA goalkeeper Lucas Beltran was kept busy in the first 40 minutes.
SDA goalkeeper Lucas Beltran was kept busy in the first 40 minutes.
(Ken Grosse)

“We didn’t show up in the first half and weren’t prepared for this type of environment,” said Elenz-Martin, likely alluding to both his team’s opponents and their vocal fans. “You have to give credit to Torrey Pines—their midfield was very dynamic, they were finding combinations and getting us out of position quite a bit.”

After about 10 minutes of solid play, mostly in the middle of the field, the Falcons turned up the heat and were buzzing in and out of the box in front of the SDA goal, generating a flurry of great chances but thanks in large part to some excellent play by goalkeeper Lucas Beltran, no immediate reward,.

With 28:20 to go in the half, a pair of seniors combined to get Torrey on the scoreboard. Wyatt Gardner fed Mateo Pacelli with an inside pass 20 yards in front of the left goal post. The clever Pacelli eluded two defenders and drilled a left-footed strike past Beltran’s right shoulder for the tally.

“It was a nice pass, I kind of anticipated the situation and saw this little gap between two defenders,” said Pacelli. “I shifted in between them, got my eye on the goal and put it away to the near post.”

Falcon senior Mateo Pacelli collected the game's first score.
Falcon senior Mateo Pacelli collected the game’s first score.
(Ken Grosse)

The Falcons maintained their unrelenting approach and 10 minutes later, after a ping-pong scramble in front of the SDA net, the ball came loose to an unmarked Eli Zelkind left of the goal and the TP senior hit a low shot to the far side making it 2-0.

Although the hosts continued to threaten, that’s how the first half ended with SDA unable to muster a single shot on goal. Veteran TP assistant coach Joel Kosakoff, taking the reins from Head Coach Andy Hargreaves (home on doctor’s orders) for the night, was happy with his squad’s performance in the first 40 minutes but also a tad frustrated.

“I think the boys came out with great energy and gave SDA no space, no room and just suffocated them,” said Kosakoff. “I thought it was a total team effort, didn’t see a guy who wasn’t firing on all cylinders energy-wise.

“But we were up two goals and it probably should have been four or five. When you have opportunities in this game, you’ve got to take advantage of them.”

SDA junior Jackson D'Alessandro gets airborne.
SDA junior Jackson D’Alessandro gets airborne.
(Ken Grosse)

The second half proved that to be true. Elenz-Martin made some adjustments, allocating more numbers on the defensive side of the ball, and his crew clearly came out with more purpose and drive after the break. It took SDA less than two minutes to put its first ball on goal but Torrey Pines still appeared firmly in control with just over 20 minutes remaining.

That’s when things got interesting. In the blink of an eye, the momentum swung. Mustang senior Scott Solano got free and ripped a shot that deflected into the goal off a Torrey defender and suddenly a one-sided affair was a contest.

“We never had an inkling that they would score in the first half and talked about bringing the same energy back in the second half but might have dropped off a little bit,” said Pacelli. “On their first goal, we got kind of discombobulated at midfield, left too large a gap between our defensive guys, their guy got a step and made the most of it.”

TP senior Andre Philibbosian tries to break free.
TP senior Andre Philibbosian tries to break free.
(Ken Grosse)

The scenario became more stressful for Torrey Pines with 15 minutes to go. Zelkind and SDA sophomore Garrett Delorme got tangled up and went down on the sidelines. In the aftermath, Delorme left the field on a cart with a bad ankle injury and Zelkind received a questionable red card meaning his team would have to play the remainder of the game with just 10 players.

As time wound down, the Falcons thought they put it away, benefiting from another senior collaboration, this time speedy Charlie Kosakoff (Jake’s son) getting on the end of an over-the-top Mikey Sherlock pass. Two defenders on his back, Kosakoff angled left to create space, measured his target and beat Beltran to the far side of the net, restoring the lead to two goals.

The persistent Mustangs refused to go away, however, and just minutes later scored on a picture perfect cross from senior Cody Van Dyck to Jake Kluka. The junior soared over his Torrey defender and headed the ball past keeper Elijah Mineiro, cutting the margin back to one. The final whistle blew shortly thereafter, allowing the TP sideline to breath easier and bank a lesson for the future.

“They’re a good team,” said Kosakoff of SDA afterward. “You let them hang around and stuff like that can happen in soccer. They came out and played well in the second half.

“If we play like we did in the first half, we are capable of winning CIF and maybe even State. But to win consistently against the best teams, we have to be able to sustain that for 80 minutes.”

Elenz-Martin, who’s bidding to have his club be the first SDA boys’ team reach a CIF Open Division bracket, had a post-game perspective not vastly dissimilar from that of Kosakoff. “It was a hard-fought game between two really good teams,” he said. “If we could have strung two good halves together, the result might have different.

“You have to be able to combine two halves in order to be the best in this league—tonight we didn’t do that. In the second half, we showed grit, character and made a game of it. I’m proud of that and we’ll build on it. We’ll definitely be ready for Carlsbad Tuesday.”

In the final week of league play, Torrey Pines will face Canyon Crest Tuesday, Feb. 8, and Oceanside Thursday, Feb. 10, while SDA will battle Carlsbad and Sage Creek. CIF berths will be announced Saturday, Feb. 12. The top eight teams will earn spots in the Open Division tournament.