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NCS boys soccer: Rancho's defense clamps down in second half

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The rain did not relent in Rohnert Park on Wednesday night. The scoring did.
Rancho Cotate led Petaluma 2-1 after a fast-paced and fairly wild first half, then clamped down on defense in a scoreless second half to win a first-round North Coast Section Division 1 boys soccer game.

“I felt our players weren’t winning enough 50-50 balls in the middle,” Cougars coach Eamon Kelly said. “And in the second half, they started to win those balls. We started playing a little high soccer, and I thought it worked to our advantage.”

Rancho Cotate advances to play at no. 2 Tamalpais in a quarterfinal game 2 p.m. Saturday.
Wednesday’s opener was a battle of upstart teams that emerged from a crowded pack in their respective leagues. Rancho, at No. 7, was the second-highest seed in the North Bay League behind Maria Carrillo. Petaluma, at No. 10, was second highest in the

Sonoma County League behind Analy. And neither was necessarily expected to be here. It was the Trojans’ first playoff appearance since 2006, and just the Cougars’ second since 2005.

Eduardo Rodriguez got Rancho Cotate on the board first in the 12th minute when he fired a shot that grazed teammate Jona Bobadilla and skimmed into the goal.

Petaluma tied the game in the 22nd minute when sophomore Max Crysdale collected a long pass in the Rancho half. Goalkeeper Danny Ortiz had demonstrated his aggressiveness very early in the game, coming far out of the box to collect a free ball. Ortiz tried again this time, but Crysdale made him pay, getting around the goalie and putting a roller into the net.
Kelly didn’t mind Ortiz taking that chance.

“I like him to come out,” the coach said. “He has played a little too safe in the past. He’s been caught in the lights sometimes, standing on the line.”
Seven minutes later, Petaluma’s Jacob Wichmann was called for tripping Michael Tofolla in front of the box, giving Rancho Cotate a penalty kick. Alan Andrade, who doubles as an excellent defender, took the kick and lofted it over Trojans goalkeeper Ricky Singleton to give the Cougars a 2-1 lead.

It stayed that way, thanks largely to tighter defense and better midfield play by Rancho Cotate (14-4-3) in the second half.
The Cougars won in the rain. But unlike the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the National League championship series, they didn’t rejoice in it.

“It was really difficult, because we’re not used to playing in the rain,” Bobadilla said. “It was really hard. We need to work on that. This is our first time playing in the rain this year. Like for me,… I couldn’t even control the ball.”

Mud was a nonfactor on Rancho Cotate’s artificial grass, and because the field drains well, pooling water wasn’t much of a problem, either. But the rain made the ball slicker and harder to control, and Kelly felt that put his team at a disadvantage.
“We’re a very on-the-ground kind of team, so it didn’t really suit us,” Kelly said. “We knew going in it wouldn’t suit us. They played balls over the top. They kind of got behind our defense. That threw us for a loop.”

Petaluma (12-8-1) did get a few chances in the second half. In the 67th minute, Trojans midfielder Rogelio Brambila took a free kick from 28 yards and led a teammate a little too far with a hard pass; Ortiz batted it away and Petaluma tried a couple rebound shots, though neither was too threatening.

The Trojans got excited on two plays in extra time, too. First Brambila pivoted and took a shot that bounced off the near (left) post.

Then junior Oliver Barajas collided with Ortiz in front of the box, and Francisco Guerrero tried to sneak one in before Ortiz recovered, but the ball stayed right of the net.

After the final whistle, the Cougars gathered on the field for a quick address from Kelly. They stacked hands and broke with the words, “Hot shower!”

They were a group of shivering survivors, and they know they’ll need to play more efficiently to get past Tamalpais, which won the Marin County Athletic League and is now 17-3-3.

“I don’t think we played up to our talent level tonight,” Kelly said. “I definitely think a drier surface helps us. … I think a game on the ground against Tamalpais, we should be right there. Hopefully it doesn’t rain so much.”