Pumas overcome slow start to stay unbeaten

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Skills and speed across the field make Maria Carrillo a strong boys’ soccer team, yet the Pumas have been slow starters as they showed Tuesday in defeating Elsie Allen.

Maria Carrillo's Jordan Bratsberg gets a head on the ball against teammate Marco Perez, center, and Elsie Allen's Jorge Alvarez during Tuesday's game. (Crista Jeremiason / PD)

If not for steady play from goalkeeper Steven Mason, the Pumas would have been down a goal or two instead of hanging on in a scoreless contest to open the second half. But then Maria Carrillo scored early in the second half and added another goal to pull away for the 2-0 win to remain undefeated in North Bay League play.

“It just shows we can turn it around. Hopefully we can put together better first halves,” said Marco Perez, who booted in the first goal and assisted on the second.

While the Pumas are playing better than expected, Elsie Allen is struggling in a rebuilding year that has been more difficult than the Lobos hoped. Elsie Allen has been undone by not finishing scoring chances and suffering defensive lapses. Both shortcomings were evident again against Maria Carrillo.

“The first half was all for us, but we didn’t score,” said Elsie Allen coach Sergio Lopez. “Right now we cannot hold onto a game.”

The difference in the game was Maria Carrillo’s ability to crack through the Elsie Allen defense and hit on quick scoring chances. Playing with greater energy and passing more crisply in the second half, the Pumas had Elsie Allen on its heels and put more shots on goal.

The first score came on a quick throw-in from Shone Barton that led Perez into open space for a 25-yard blast from the left and inside the right goal post.

“We tried to pressure it more,” said Maria Carrillo coach Mike Mastin. “Elsie Allen was doing a great job on the counter attack so we tried to start our defense on top.”

Maria Carrillo’s midfielders controlled long stretches of the second half. James Moberg and Diego Davila worked combinations with the Pumas’ forwards to maintain possession and generate scoring chances.

One of those combinations had Davila pass up the middle to Perez, who one-timed the ball to Cody Keading. The forward’s shot was hauled in by a streaking Salvador Cortez, but the ball squirted away from the Elsie Allen keeper and Keading pushed it in for the score.

The Lobos regrouped, gaining more possessions as in the first half. But there were fewer openings for shots and the few free kicks and corner kicks the Pumas defense didn’t clear, Mason snagged with sure hands in traffic.

Keeping the ball on Maria Carrillo’s side of the field for much of the first half, Elsie Allen had a handful of solid scoring chances.

Midfielders Jorge Alvarez and Jesus Hernandez and forwards Ernesto Beltran and Christopher Huerta patiently moved the ball and found openings, consistently pressuring Maria Carrillo defenders. Hernandez put a hard shot on Mason well beyond the goal that the keeper deflected and managed to gather in. After leaping to punch out a shot, Mason scrambled back to block Beltran’s attempt off the rebound.

When the Pumas did manage offensive forays toward the Elsie Allen goal, Lobos’ defenders Jesus Galvan and Antonio Madriz would turn the plays back and get balls onto the feet of midfielders for runs back at the Pumas.

With the outcome in the balance going into the second half, Maria Carrillo played with energy and applied the pressure needed to prevail.

Maria Carrillo should be considered one of the NBL and North Coast Section favorites with only one loss on the season against a very strong Granite Bay team.

“Our goal is always the playoffs,” Perez said. “We’re right where we want to be. We can only get better from here.”