By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In Tuesday’s NBL boys soccer showdown, the host Pumas showed up on the pitch in earnest while the visiting Gauchos left their game back on the bus.
Undefeated and alone atop the NBL, Maria Carrillo (16-0-2, 11-0) scored their goals in lighting-quick fashion — two within a span of six minutes in the first half and the other two within a three-minute stretch in the second half. The result was a resounding 4-0 victory for the Pumas.
“Tonight we had 12 minutes of madness. We had lapses of concentration at the start of both halves,” Casa Grande coach Lee Summerscales said. “We can’t afford to do that against the best team in the league.”
The Pumas went on the attack right away and scored a goal in the eighth minute when Cesar Farias converted a deflection by teammate Jason Chang into a goal.
In the 14th minute, Chang served up a corner kick that was headed in by Maria Carrillo’s James Pierpoint from six yards out, past Casa Grande goalkeeper Sam Falkenburg.
“You can’t afford to go down 2-nil in the first 15 minutes,” Summerscales said. “You are just shooting yourself in the foot.”
Casa Grande (9-4-1, 7-3-1) settled down and played competitively the remainder of the first half, limiting the Pumas’ scoring opportunities.
“For the last 20 or 25 minutes of the first half, Casa outplayed us,” Maria Carrillo coach Mike Mastin said. “We played better in the second half.”
The Pumas left no doubt after halftime.
In the 49th minute, Maria Carrillo’s David Shepperd headed in an 8-yard goal into a wide-open net off a corner kick by Darian Huerta. On the play, Falkenburg misjudged the entry kick and vacated the net to grab the ball but got caught in traffic in front of the net, allowing Shepperd the prime scoring opportunity.
“The biggest thing was that third goal,” Mastin said. “It opened it up and allowed us to possess the ball more.”
Before the Gauchos could regroup, the Pumas struck again, this time in the 52nd minute. Huerta had a breakaway off a counter-attack and booted in a from 10 yards, past an onrushing Falkenburg.
“They (Pumas) scored goals on all our mistakes because they are that good,” Summerscales said. “All their players are very good technically.”
Meanwhile, Casa Grande couldn’t muster any offense and the ball stayed on the Gauchos’ side of the field for the overwhelming majority of the second half. Maria Carrillo goalie Erik Nunn had a very quiet day between the posts as the Pumas only had two shots on goal.
Mastin said the Pumas’ defense was spearheaded by fullbacks Donte Garcia and Sam Hauptman.
Casa striker Noah Wilson, whom Mastin said is one of the best players his team has faced all season, was closely and effectively marked.
“Our entire back line played very well,” Mastin said.
This was a rematch after the Pumas won the first meeting 6-0 at Casa. Maria Carrillo won the two games by a cumulative 10-0.
“We came out and played two of our better games this season against Casa,” Mastin said. “10-0 in the two games is not a true reflection of the two teams. I wouldn’t want to face Casa again in the playoffs.”
On the flip side, Casa turned in two lackluster performances against the Pumas.
“We just didn’t show up and play. They just didn’t look like they were focused in warm-ups,” Summerscales said. “Unfortunately, our two worst games of the season have been against the best team in the league.”
The Pumas are in a position to have an undefeated season, but that’s not their primary mission, said Mastin.
“Being undefeated is nice, but … our goal is to win the league, number one, and, number two, to get into the playoffs,” Mastin said.
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