By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Deep, skilled and unselfish, Roseland University Prep is a budding small school boys soccer power with five wins against quality opponents on the young season.
Working hard to hang for a 3-2 win Thursday at Cardinal Newman, the Knights were perhaps too confident after taking an early lead with some of their best play.
“We’re short, we’re tall, but we always fight. We’ve got a squad that’s dedicated to winning,” said Michael Iturbe, who hammered two of Roseland Prep’s goals.
Battle the Knights did with Cardinal Newman controlling long stretches of the second half and out-shooting Roseland Prep. If the Cardinals play well as a team a full game, they can be tough to beat.
“We need to start a lot quicker. That’s been what we’ve been working on. It’s coming, we’ll be a threat,” said midfielder Simon Bell, an anchor with the deft touch on both ends of the field.
Starting strong has been Roseland Prep’s story this season. Finishing third in the Bay Invitational tournament, featuring some of Northern California’s top teams, the Knights still expect to improve. With only one loss playing a difficult non-league schedule, Roseland Prep hopes to set up for a section playoff run.
“We decided to challenge ourselves. So far, so good,” said Roseland Prep coach Tino Fonzeca.
Goal scoring has been a challenge, but not in the first half against Cardinal Newman.
Strong with the ball on the wings and passing through the middle, Roseland Prep created more than a dozen scoring chances in the first 40 minutes of play. Often switching the ball across the field and making extra passes typically put the ball on the foot of open shooters.
A trio of Knights shared the ball to set up the first goal by Adolfo Morales, who chipped a pass to himself to get behind the defense.
Relentless pressure from the Knights led to one of Cardinal Newman’s few defensive lapses. Pouncing on a loose ball 25 yards out, Iturbe blasted the ball just under the crossbar.
Marking better across the field and limiting early serves to the middle, Cardinal Newman regained its footing.
With James Del Curto working hard on top, Freddie Garcia took a sharp, deep pass from the forward and banged a shot from the right side into the goal’s top left corner.
Displaying quick striking ability, Roseland Prep turned a stop at the top of their box into a score. Two long passes up the right side and a serve from Jose Ramirez allowed Iturbe to one touch and boot another goal.
“We usually have a good start. That was one of our best halves,” Iturbe said.
One of Cardinal Newman’s finest halves on the season nearly evened the contest. Strong defense limited Roseland Prep’s playmaking with Taylor Harrison and George Sakopoulos anchoring the Cardinals back line.
“We have to defend hard to be competitive. We need to stay organized and keep our shape,” said Cardinal Newman coach Alan Ramos. “I was proud of their effort.”
With both Bell and Del Curto leading crisper offensive play, Cardinal Newman now applied the pressure. The pair connected on a corner kick to pull within a goal. The Cardinals just missed on a pair of Bell serves to the middle late in the contest.
Leading the Roseland Prep defense that wouldn’t yield the lead was Rodrigo Estrella, one of seven returning starters for the Knights.