Despite a late goal, it was too little too late as men’s soccer fell to the visiting Cal Lutheran Kingsmen by a 3-1 score Wednesday at Damien High School.
After a scoreless first half, it took the Kingsmen under five minutes to find their first tally, by way of freshman midfielder Tyler Pascoe.
“We didn’t prepare ourselves for this game and we didn’t find the ball,” head coach Cres Gonzalez said.
The Leopards began the game with composure and control, dominating possession through the first 20 minutes.
The team found their success with good teamwork in the midfield area, resulting in multiple corner kicks, set pieces and outside shots.
Junior goalkeeper Richard Duran kept Cal Lutheran off of the scoreboard in the 24th minute.
He aggressively came out of his goal to pick up a dangerous ball in the penalty box with a Kingsmen forward closing in.
Then in the 28th minute, sophomore midfielder Fernando Almejo made a tackle that won the ball for junior midfielder Erek Brown to turn up the field, but to no avail.
The Leopards’ best chance of the opening 45 minutes came in the 40th minute.
Brown found the ball at his feet with the Kingsmen goalkeeper coming out.
Brown attempted to finish the opportunity, but another chance for La Verne came and went.
The opening half saw chances for both teams and entering the break, the Leopards had a bright future to earn their fourth straight victory.
From the start, La Verne felt a blow to their defense.
Senior captain Wesley Lucas was kept off the field with an injury he sustained in the first half.
“He’s our captain and the best defender we have right now,” sophomore defender Jared Taylor said. “It didn’t kill us but it did hurt us.”
The second half began in the opposite fashion of the first; the Leopards struggled to possess the ball.
Their struggles to string passes together allowed the visitors to control the ball in the offensive third of the field and create opportunities towards the goal.
La Verne’s chances in the second half came in spurts.
A 55th minute cross from the right wing by freshman midfielder Brent Chamberlain was tipped out by Cal Lutheran goalkeeper Chris Holm.
The ensuing corner kick was harmlessly headed away by the Kingsmen defense.
Another cross in the same minute found a Leopard head before Holm again proved his worth as a substitute goalkeeper with another save.
“The opportunities we had, they just slipped away,” Taylor said.
After Cal Lutheran’s first goal, La Verne began playing aggressively, resulting in 11 fouls and three yellow cards for the evening.
The Leopards’ frustration translated into their game as well.
“The ball didn’t go in and we lost composure,” Almejo said. “We didn’t keep our head in the game.”
In the 57th minute, Cal Lutheran sophomore midfielder Bryce Truver was substituted in for his first minutes of the game, and it did not take long for him to make an impact.
In the 61st minute, the Kingsmen earned a corner kick and the initial attempt was saved by Duran.
Truver drove the second attempt home to put the visitors up 2-0.
“The first two goals that got scored were mental,” Duran said. “People stepped to the ball instead of sticking with their man.”
Five minutes later, a misplayed ball by the defense lead to a third goal for Cal Lutheran.
A deep kick by Holm found its way past the last Leopard defender. Kingsmen freshman defender Matt Hubbard was able to sprint to the ball and head it up and over Duran for Cal Lutheran’s last goal, widening the margin to 3-0.
With three minutes remaining, La Verne found a glimmer of hope.
Sophomore forward Luis Chavez found himself with the ball in open space off of a quick turnover by the Kingsmen defense.
Chavez chipped the ball over Holm into the back of the net.
With three minutes left the Leopards scrambled to tie the game by forcing the ball toward the goal, but were unsuccessful.
“Because we didn’t play the full 90 minutes at 100 percent, we shot ourselves in the foot,” Taylor said. “We can’t let anything slide. We can’t have another game like this.”
“We set this game aside,” Almejo said. “We thought they’re at the bottom of the table and we would win easily.”
The loss set the Leopards record to 5-7-1 overall and 4-6-1 in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play.
They next play at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
“We have two tough games in CMS and Redlands,” Duran said. “We need to show up against CMS, beat Caltech and show up for Redlands.”
Daniel Hargis can be reached at email@example.com.