Rams shut out Comets in first round of NorCal playoffs

The men’s soccer team fail to contain Fresno City College’s blistering counter attacks

By Lorenzo Morotti, Editor-in-Chief

The men’s soccer team failed to mirror the amount, speed, and accuracy of the Ram’s offensive drives during the second half of the NorCal Regional Playoffs at Fresno City College on Saturday.

Fresno City College (13-7-2 overall, 5-3-1 in the Central Valley Conference) scored twice within five minutes of the second half and sealed its win at 82 minutes to advance to the second round of the regional playoffs with a 3-0 shutout.

Contra Costa College (11-7-3 overall, 8-3-1 in the Bay Valley Conference) crammed into the twin vans for the three-hour trip home after it wasted the five shots on goal it had throughout the game.

FCC coach Eric Solberg said the final score, however, does not accurately represent CCC’s performance in its first playoff game since 2005.

CCC center back Bradley Alman said, “We never lost confidence. We got a little tired and made a few mental mistakes during the second (half) but we thought we could win.”

The first half was a back and forth battle of quick breaks. Constant turnovers on both sides of the field kept the game in transition with few pauses for either team to reorganize for the next attack.

In the first half, the Ram’s had six shots on goal to CCC’s two and expanded their margin only moments into the second.

“Our defense kept us in the game going into the second half tied 0-0,” Alman said. “We believed we had a shot for a 1-0 win.”

The work rates of Comet center back Charlie Mendoza, left fullback Alejandro Gonzalez, right fullback Enri Refunjol, and Alman held the Ram’s offense at bay for the first half and momentarily scoreless.

Solberg said, “We knew (the Comets) would put up a good fight and it was a tight game in the first half but we were patient and knew if we kept grinding we would find the net.”

The home team’s wingers and strikers constantly tested the CCC defensive backline by either cutting inward from the wings to dribble into the penalty area for a shot or use their quick pace to scorch toward the end line to deliver the cross. The latter proved much more effective.

At 55 minutes, FCC striker Fernando Rodriguez scored a sliding goal inside the penalty area. Midfielder Jose Torres assisted with a cross from the right wing to the near post for Rodriguez to redirect the ball with the bottom of his right cleat.

Alman said, “We were down one nothing and pushing numbers up for a goal but when you play like that you open yourself up for a counter attack.”

At 61 minutes, another Ram counter attack set up the second goal. The play developed from an attempted cross from the right wing that was deflected past the end line by the Comet’s tight defensive coverage for a FCC corner kick.

Midfielder Jose Torres lofted the ball over the crowed penalty area toward the second post to reach center back Christian Chaney who leapt above the CCC defenders to header the ball into the top left corner 12 yards out from goal.

Comet goalkeeper Jose Ayala was left standing still by the speed at which the set piece play developed.

Comet coach Nikki Ferguson said, “ The game was 0-0 at halftime but we went down two goals within a few minutes, so I had to move the team around because of that.”

Ferguson said after the second goal, he switched the team’s formation from a 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2 in hopes of pushing more attacking players higher up into the Ram’s defensive third.

This tactic however left the Comets vulnerable in the backfield to the vicious Ram counter attacks, which produced the first and final goal.

CCC center defensive midfielder Nic Bob said, “They are a strong team and you can tell that they have been at this level before. They were used to this kind of pressure.”

The best chance FCC had to score before the half was at 33 minutes when midfielder Wesley Vasquez stole the ball from Alman as he trapped the long forward pass, delivered from the Ram’s defensive backline at the edge of the penalty area.

Alman said he lost sight of which side Vasquez was pressuring him from and turned into the path of the determined striker.

This created a one-on-one situation with Vasquez and Comet goalkeeper Jose Ayala who rushed out to successfully diffuse the situation with his body.

“(Ayala) bailed me out,” Alman said. “He kept us in the game for the first half but we were unlucky in second.”

Ayala had 6 saves before he was substituted out for Stephane Vanier at 75 minutes.

Solberg said CCC had a good opportunity to score in the first half but was saved by goalkeeper Cesar Hernandez.“CCC had a sitter in front of the net, it was a terrible mistake for us defensively but that would have put them up 1-0. Too bad it rolled over (Vega’s) foot,” he said.

At 13 minutes, the play developed along the left wing when midfielder Jesus Villagrana sent a quick ground cross that cut through the penalty area in front of goal.

Comet striker Bryan Vega was alone at the near post but failed to make contact with the ball.

Instead, the ball reached Bryan Santos who laced it with his right foot. His shot was on target but Hernandez dove into the shot deny CCC an edge entering the second half. Hernandez ended the game with four saves.

Solberg said, “If (Santos) put that shot away, it would have been a completely different game.”

Bob said if that opportunity to score was seized the Comets would have won 1-0. “If we were in the lead we would have kept it without a doubt.”