BVC Champs lose first game, seek resurgence

The Comets break even in opening tournament

Comet soccer players fight for possession of the ball during a defensive one-on-one drill during practice at the Soccer Field on Monday.

By Lorenzo Morotti, Associate Editor

Winning the 2015 Bay Valley Conference championship last season secured the men’s soccer team a second consecutive spot in the Northern California Regional Playoffs against the same opponent — Fresno City College.

The Comets lost both playoff games to the Rams in 2014 and 2015, but that did not stop Contra Costa College men’s soccer coach Nikki Ferguson from scheduling a rematch to open the 2016 fall semester.

The CCC men’s soccer team (1-1 overall), made up of three sophomores and 24 freshman players, opened its 2016 fall semester with a 9-3 loss, a defensive debacle, but held on to a 2-1 win against Clovis Community College at a tournament at Lake Tahoe Community College on Friday and Saturday.

“Playing quality teams to open the season lets players know where they fall short as a team,” Ferguson said. “About 80 to 90 percent of these guys are first-year players. So to go into a game against a team like Fresno without any competition under their belt is tough.”

The Comet striker Jordan Flechero tapped a low cross sent to the near post from the right edge of the box by Comet right wing Jose Hernandez to score the winning goal against Clovis with 22 minutes left to play on Saturday.

Flechero said it felt “amazing” to score the game-winning goal. He said he thanks God for the opportunity to score, especially after the 9-3 loss to Fresno the day before.

“It was difficult when it was happening, but losing that first game (against the Rams) was a wakeup call,” he said. “We took that loss as a team and made it into something better. Teamwork is most important.”

Ferguson said while this year’s squad is mostly young and inexperienced playing at the community college level, it is the largest and most talented group he has had since he took over the men’s soccer program in 2014.

He said playing teams with pedigrees as recognized as Fresno’s is a crucial step in getting talented individuals to play well together.

“Even though we lost, by the end of the tournament we performed better,” Ferguson said. “It took a lot out of us, but we grew a lot and truly understand the importance of executing a game plan — especially now that we know what kind of competition is coming.”

Sophomore goalkeeper Eduardo Escamilla said Fresno’s pace during the counter attacks, or the barrage of lofted through balls, shocked a lot of the freshman players, even though the coach gave the team prior warning.

“(Ferguson) told us at one practice that Fresno likes to play the long ball over the defense, and that it was going to be their main method of attack,” Escamilla said. “I thought this Fresno game was a test from the outset. Fresno has always had respect as a quality program.

“So for us to play (the Rams) in the first game of the season, and losing it badly, really taught us what kind of competition we should expect the rest of the season.”

The squad elected Escamilla (12 shutouts and 136 saves last season), sophomore center back Edgar Yepes (2015 BVC Defensive Player of the Year and MVP) and freshman defensive fullback Alfonso Munoz to captain the team through a challenging schedule.

“I would never choose the captains because at the end of the day the players are in the driver’s seat. We just mentor them,” Ferguson said. “I agree with the team’s choice. They did a good job to cast their votes based on personality — and not based on ability.”

Even though the Comets buckled defensively in the opening game against their playoff rivals the Rams, CCC still managed to score more goals in one game against Fresno than it could over its last two playoff games.

“The fact that we were able to score more goals in this game (against the Rams) than we have over the past two seasons is a positive highlight that we can take with us,” Escamilla said. “Our defense did not get the job done, but our attacking players got three goals in the back of the net.”

Munoz said the team was training for this game against Fresno for weeks leading up to the tournament.

“(Ferguson) was preparing us for the game against Fresno at practice,” he said. “He warned us about (the Rams) being a reputable program with a long history of beating good teams before we became rivals. I’m excited to represent this community against quality teams.”

Ferguson said he is proud of the team for evaluating its weaknesses against Fresno and implementing the changes against Clovis in its next game. His only frustration is that it did not come sooner.

“The frustrating part for me is that we were preparing for that exact game for weeks, but  with the way they played you couldn’t tell,” he said. “These players are a talented group, but because they are so young they did not understand the importance of execution. The defense was sloppy and we missed chances on goal.”

The Comets need to solidify its defense and make sure its offense can finish its chances when it faces Modesto Junior College at the Soccer Field on Tuesday.