Comet’s defense muffles T-Bird offensive barrage

Goalkeeper manages to block multiple shots, keeps squad in play off contention

By Lorenzo Morotti, Editor-in-Chief

OAKLAND-The men’s soccer team relied on the stability and work rate of its defense to nearly escape a loss against a threatening Thunderbird offensive at Merritt College on Friday.

Contra Costa College (6-3-1 in the Bay Valley Conference, 9-7-1 overall) was lucky to return home against its conference rival with a 0-0 tie.

“We know that every game against CCC is going to be a physical one,” Merritt attacking winger Kevin Ramirez said. “We have a rivalry and it’s always a fast paced and aggressive game.”

CCC dropped from second to third place in the BVC standings after only producing five shots on goal throughout the game to the T-Birds 15. This game marks the Comet’s first of draw of the 2014 season.

“Their goalie had some huge saves,” Merritt coach Zach Sullivan said. “They are a great team with a good keeper who played the game of his season.But the soccer gods were just not with us today.”

Merritt College (5-5-1 in the BVC, 9-8-3 overall) was in control of the possession for the majority of the game except for the first 10 minutes when CCC controlled the tempo with thoughtful and wide passing plays.

Sloppy passing and sluggish movement replaced the Comet’s thoughtful give-and-go passing plays along the wings of the field that it displayed at the outset of the game.

Thunderbird striker Jesus Maldonado had the most shots on goal with five but was denied by the framework of the goal twice and three times by Comet goalkeeper Jose Ayala.The CCC team’s mentality shifted from creating opportunities on goal to crowding the penalty area and hope the deflected shot isn’t redirected toward goal.

Ayala was forced to scramble within the goal posts repeatedly while under the pressure of a frustrated home team offensive.

T-Bird strikers Maldonado, and Francisco Mendoza fired a barrage of shots on goal and sent accurate crosses to T-Bird strikers in front of goal.

Four shots hit the framework of the Comet’s goal and Ayala finished the game with six saves, four of which were vital to keep CCC in playoff contention by securing the tie.

The most important play of the game was a double save by Ayala at 68 minutes.

CCC lost possession as it tried to break into the attacking third. MC defensive backline quickly forced a turnover and reorganized to initiate the quick break.

The T-Bird counter attack swung the ball out wide into left center field, about 35 yards out. Maldonado received the pass and then gave it one touch to the left wing as he made the overlapping run into the box. The ball was then flicked up and forward into the path of Maldonado who was in full stride past the Comet defensive backline.

Onside in the penalty area, he fired a shot toward the near post but was blocked by Ayala who used the palms of his hands to deflect the ball out toward the edge of the penalty area.Within seconds, a second shot was fired through a crowed penalty area toward the opposite side of goal but Ayala’s hustle was just enough for a diving save.

Ayala said, “I had to go for the stop on every shot. My team was unable to score so I did what I could to keep the ball out (of goal).”

Another wasted T-Bird opportunity came at 12 minutes into the first half. Maldonado received a long filtered pass on the counter attack and found himself behind the Comet backline into a one-on-one situation against Ayala.

Ayala, however, rushed out and used the length of his body to muffle the low shot Maldonado fired.

MC center attacking midfielder Edgar Damian said if his team’s attacking players were more clinical in front of the goal they would have easily won.

“No one was consistent on the team and lacked focus,” Damian said. “We kept going at it but should have slowed it down and held onto the game.”

While Maldonado failed to execute in front of goal, he managed be a nuisance for Ayala and the Comet backline once he was substituted in at 10 minutes.

“It was really hard to defend against (Merritt) only because the fact that they kept the quick pressure on us,” CCC center back Charlie Mendoza said. “But the one thing I didn’t want to do was lose to my old team.”

Starting Comet strikers Byran Vega and Brian Santos being out of form put extra pressure on the defensive backline and Ayala.

The defense remained solid as Vega and Santos struggled to connect with the inconsistent midfield and had two and one shot on goal by the end of the match, respectively.

Ayala said, “We would have lost it if were not for my back four, they made some big stops today.”

The Comet’s offense, however, struggled to make piercing runs into the penalty area and prompted the offside flag to be raised five times in the first half alone.The Comet’s ended the game with six offside calls to MC’s seven.

CCC centerback Brad Alman said the team started off well but began to struggle offensively it just kept blasting incomplete long lobbed passes into the attacking third.“We were a little too direct with our long passes,” Alman said. “We started to feel the pressure.”

“It was really hard to defend against Merritt only because they kept on pressuring us quickly,” Comet center back Mendoza said. “But the one thing I couldn’t do was lose to my old team and that kept me going.”

He said his team has talented players who well to keep up with Merritt but  could have done better to try and win instead of settling for a tie. “We started thinking less and less as the game went on and relied on our physical ability,” he said.

CCC resorted to fouling 18 times attempting to stop the many chances the Thunderbirds had to score. Ramirez was injured during the final minutes of play when a T-Bird cross was sent from the right wing in search of anyone’s forehead. He said, “I was getting hit left and right the whole game. First I got hit in my jaw and then (center midfielder Ivan Marin) cleated me on the side of my knee during a cross.”

A yellow card was awarded to Bryan Santos at 35 minutes when he attempted a slide tackle but missed the ball. Another was given to MC center back Sean Walker for the same type of infraction only minutes before.

The Comets now sit below the College of Marin and BVC leaders Mendocino College with 19 points. CCC’s next match will be a non-conference game against the Bear Cubs at Santa Rosa Junior College at 3 p.m. on Nov. 10.